QUINTETS BY BAX and BRIDGE
Sir Arnold BAX
in G minor (1914-15) [41:10]
in D minor (1904-05) [27:08]
The Tippett Quartet
rec. St Silas Church, Chalk
Farm, London, 17-19 December 2009 \
Review by Ian
tunes that haunted me were the cello phrase opening Bax’s Piano
Quintet and the viola tune from Tintagel.”
Felix Apprahamian - writing in March 1982 for the Foreword to the
First Edition of Lewis Foreman’s
Bax – A Composer and His Times.
Bax’s Piano Quintet is a
long-spanned, sprawling, complex work - possibly too complex -
certainly Lewis Foreman in his biography of the composer suggests it
is. There is an impression of there being larger forces at work here
than just a quintet. It stands at the end of the period of his early
works and marks a shift in style to a more mature outlook. It can be
seen to be pointing the way towards his symphonies of the 1920s and
1930s. The string writing includes many colourful effects while the
piano part is beautifully sensitive and decorative as well as
assertive. The first two movements were written very swiftly in
mid-July 1914 but the third movement did not follow until the Great
War had been raging for several months. As Bax’s biographer, Lewis
Foreman suggests, “its colder atmosphere may well reflect the dark
and ominous cloud that had darkened the sunny landscape of the
Bax’s Piano Quintet was first performed at a private gathering of a
Music Club Concert in London’s Savoy Hotel on 19 December 1917 with
Harriet Cohen and the English String Quartet. It is tempting to
think that Bax might have revised some of its music between its
conception and this private performance. Some part of its influence
might have been not just the Great War but also the events in
Ireland and, especially, the early experiences of his turbulent
relationship with his lover, Harriet Cohen. It should be stated that
Bax did not give any clue as to any proposed programmatic origin for
this remarkable work. Yet his detailed expressionistic score
markings would suggest that there could have been a non-musical
inspiration. Enigmatically what might be regarded as Spanish
inflections may be discerned, in the second and third movements.
Quintet opens with defiant, muscular piano chords and a portentous
cello theme redolent of the tempestuous and passionate music that
comprises so much of this epic, almost 19-minute-long opening
movement. There are quasi-dance measures, sometimes merry, at other
times wild and frenzied. The movement’s lyrical episodes are tinged
with yearning and possibly nostalgic regret. Celtic influences and
liturgical elements are also apparent.
The complex slow movement commences
with pizzicato string chords. Rippling watery piano figurations
accompany a slowly-unwinding, serenely-romantic string melody.
Another liturgical figure arises counterpointed by a persistent
figure that is uncannily like Bernard Herrmann’s obsessive habanera
for Hitchcock’s Vertigo.
Slow and quietly meditative string music contrasts with evocations
of sea-waves from the piano.
finale continues the emphatic and tempestuous mood of the opening
movement and at about one minute in, those obsessive Herrmann-esque
figures are heard again leading to barbaric, possessed dance
figures. This is an extraordinary movement, its temperature often
icy, with some weird effects. The Celtic influence is strong too.
Ashley Wass, so well-attuned to Bax’s idiom, as evidenced on his
previous, well-received, Naxos Bax releases, is partnered by an
equally responsive Tippett Quartet, to deliver a committed
performance of this passionate, capricious music.
Frank Bridge’s lovely, shorter
Piano Quintet belongs to his more accessible, first creative period.
It was originally conceived as a four-movement piece but it was
radically revised in 1912 when the composer virtually re-wrote the
first movement, shortening it and lightening its textures, and
compressing the two middle movements into one. Like the Bax Quintet,
it too begins in turmoil but its darker pages vie with the most
gorgeous melody, a tune that has persisted in my mind for days,
especially as played so tenderly here. The second movement charms.
It opens softly, slowly and meditatively before another lovely
romantic melody unfolds. A touch of Mendelssohn follows with a
scampering elfin scherzo. The
finale is forceful with much energy and fire. A wistful tune voiced
by the viola and developed by the piano and strings brings lyrical
Stunning performances of two important British Piano Quintets.
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