London Bridge Ensemble

Fauré
Piano Trio in D minor Op.120
La Bonne Chanson [chamber version]
Bridge
Three Songs with Viola
Phantasy Trio in C minor
David Matthews
Voyages, Op.96 [World premiere]

London Bridge Ensemble:

Ivan Ludlow (baritone)
Benjamin Nabarro (violin)
Kate Gould (cello)
Daniel Tong (piano)
Anna Safonova (violin)
Tom Dunn (viola)
Marcel Becker (double bass)


Reviewed by: William Yeoman

Reviewed: 23 May, 2005
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Puns on Frank Bridge’s name were writ large in this concert, with not only the Phantasy Trio forming an Allegro-Andante-Scherzo-Andante-Allegro arch but the programme as a whole duplicating this structure: Fauré-Bridge-Matthews-Bridge-Fauré. And although “Voyages” occupied the same space as the scherzo in the Phantasy Trio, the work is certainly no joke, synthesising as it does the late-Romantic soundworld of both Bridge and Fauré with a real gift for word-painting and nuance of texture – a bridge between times and temperaments. Add to this the communicative bridge built steadily and skilfully throughout the concert by the ensemble and you have the aural equivalent of a vast network of arches starting at the phrase level and working outwards, each trembling with expressive power – such was the interpretative skill of the performers.

The opening piece, Fauré’s late Piano Trio, found the musicians tactically restrained and willing to let the music speak for itself, with sighing strings, stretched over the bubbling piano part, blossoming into a clean expressivity in the song-like Andantino before the sparkling Allegro vivo. The intensity level was then raised a notch with Frank Bridge’s “Three Songs with Viola”. Here baritone Ivan Ludlow projected the texts (by Arnold, Heine and Shelley) with great beauty of tone despite taking a little time to warm up; his diction, however, was not as clear as one would have liked. That being said, the general idea of the uncertain nature of the soul’s journey (whether departed or still within the body), running through all three texts, was nicely projected and prepared an appropriate emotional space for the world premiere of David Matthews’s “Voyages”.

Commissioned by the London Bridge Ensemble and scored for baritone with piano quartet, Matthews’s work builds on an earlier setting of Baudelaire’s “L’invitation au voyage” for soprano and piano quartet, but is constructed in such a way that the three new songs can stand on their own – which is how the work was performed in this concert. Again, an arch motif appears, with two Baudelaire settings flanking Victor Hugo’s “Demain, dès l’aube” (a poem in which the poet describes his journey to lay a wreath at his daughter’s tomb). The sweet, intense “Le Voyage” gradually builds and crescendos on the word “Allons” before resolving in pizzicato chords; the agitated Hugo setting bounces over more rocky terrain before coming to a thundering close; “Le Voyage (ii)” creeps among thickets criss-crossed by strands of melody like cobwebs. The performance itself was searching in its own way, as though the interpreters were still coming to terms with a new work yet armed with a depth of understanding that allowed the music to really breath. Ludlow, his voice by this time fully warmed up, was able to inject an urgency and yearning that was beautifully complemented by the instrumentalists’ responsive playing. The composer looked very pleased indeed.

Bridge’s Phantasy Trio followed the interval, the performance of which proved to be far and away the most exciting and committed in the concert – which is saying much. Benjamin Nabarro, Kate Gould and Daniel Tong were as one and played with a passionate abandon that was lacking in the Fauré Trio. The impact was going to be hard to beat; and while the performance of La Bonne Chanson (in the composer’s arrangement for piano and string quintet) was beautiful in its poise and elegance, it never once exhibited the sheer emotional intensity of the Bridge.



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