Lyrita – Frank Bridge (Chamber Music)

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Bridge
String Quartet No.3
String Quartet No.4
Piano Trio No.2
Phantasy Piano Quartet
Miniatures for Piano Trio – Set 3 [Valse Russe; Hornpipe; March Militaire]

Allegri Quartet [Hugh Maguire & David Roth (violins), Patrick Ireland (viola) & Bruno Schreker (cello)]

Tunnell Trio [John Tunnell (violin), Charles Tunnell (cello) & Susan Tunnell (piano)] with Brian Hawkins (viola)

Recorded in London – String Quartets in December 1971 in Kingsway Hall; Piano Trios and Piano Quartet in December 1976 in Christ Church, Chelsea


Reviewed by: Peter Joelson

Reviewed: December 2007
CD No: LYRITA
SRCD.302 (2 CDs)
Duration: 1 hour 45 minutes

 

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After some considerable success as a composer, Frank Bridge (1879-1941) became more famous for having been Benjamin Britten’s teacher than for his own compositions. Now the pendulum has swung back and Bridge’s works have enjoyed many fine recordings over the last 35 years or so.

Bridge’s earlier compositions are tonal, melodic and overtly rhythmic, and enjoyed a good deal of success. His compositional style evolved quite quickly in the middle of the 1920s however, and in 1924 he published his Piano Sonata, for him a revolutionary work: the key in which the music is written is unclear, the melodies more complex – conversational, as Britten described them – and the rhythms less predictable.

These later works, including the last two string quartets and the Piano Trio included on these CDs, confounded critics at the time, some suggesting Bridge had assumed a false Schoenbergian compositional style to ride on the coat-tails of the avant-garde, and very few performances of this music took place between. However, the passing of time has enabled us to realise that these works, especially the Piano Trio, are forward-looking masterpieces.

Bridge’s Third String Quartet was begun in 1925 and completed two years later due to the complexity of the task Bridge had set himself. It was premiered in Vienna in 1927 by the Kolisch Quartet, which had also given first performances of quartets by Schoenberg and Berg. After a mysterious introduction marked Andante moderato which lays out the business of the work, the first movement’s Allegro moderato is full of drama and tension. A more song-like second movement is followed by a sonata-rondo marked Allegro energico, ending in a peaceful coda where all the previous themes reappear and die away.

Elisabeth Sprague CoolidgeWhile writing the Fourth Quartet in 1936, Bridge wrote to Elisabeth Sprague Coolidge, hoping that she would programme it at the Berkshire Festival. His output had already decreased during the 1930s and he had to work hard to finish this piece. A heart attack later in the year further delayed its completion until 1937 and it was first performed in September 1939 by the Gordon Quartet under Coolidge’s patronage. It is a concise work, the first movement beginning Allegro energico, a bustling piece in sonata form, brimful of kinetic energy and spiky rhythms. The second movement is a short minuet, with an ostinato bass accompanying upper instruments. The finale has an introduction followed by a rondo; as in the Third Quartet, the Fourth ends with a reprise of earlier themes, this time with an optimistic flourish.

The second disc in this set contains the works with piano. The Piano Trio of 1929 is a masterly composition in four meaty movements, the first running into the second, the third into the fourth. The interplay between piano and strings gives moments of pure magic, as the ideas are repeated and underlined in turn. The second movement – Molto allegro – has the delicacy of a Seurat. First performed with Harriet Cohen as the pianist in November 1929 to coincide with the end of one of Coolidge’s European trips, it was then taken on tour in the United States under her aegis and was received far more warmly by critics and public there than had been the case in London.

The Phantasy Piano Quartet of 1910 belongs to Bridge’s earlier style. W. W. Cobbett, for the Worshipful Company of Musicians, had commissioned eleven composers to write chamber music fantasies. These are written in arch rather than sonata form emulating the style of Elizabethan and Jacobean composers’ Fantasias.

Bridge wrote three sets of Miniatures for Piano Trio and here we have the Third Set. These have remained popular for a century, as they are undemanding technically and Bridge never patronises with his invention. All three sets are well worth seeking out; are all dances and very easy to listen to.

The performances on these discs still hold their own against more recent ones. These two CDs, offered for the price of one, were originally issued on Argo LPs. The warmly intimate recordings have been extremely well re-mastered by Simon Gibson and have an excellent booklet note by Paul Hindmarsh.

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