Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941)
String Quartet No. 2 (1915) [32.43]
String Quartet No. 3 (1926) [25.23]
The Bridge String Quartet
rec. London, 20-22 May 1996, DDD
MERIDIAN CDE 84311 [58.02]


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This disc places side by side two works staring uncomprehendingly at each other across the chasm created by the Great War. This was a war with which Bridge, a lifelong pacifist, would have no truck. He was too old to fight; instead he drank deep of the grief of seeing friends and pupils dragged under by the fighting. One of the first works to illustrate the psychological change was the Piano Sonata - dedicated to his pupil Ernest Bristow Farrar killed in the fighting and premiered by Myra Hess in 1926. You can hear it on a Continuum disc (Peter Jacobs - either CCD 1019 or CCD 1040) though I keep wishing that Peter Wallfisch's analogue recording, once issued on a Pearl LP, would reappear.

These two three-movement quartets are separated by just a decade. The Second Quartet is from the second year of the Great War - the year he also stood down as violist of the English Quartet. At the time he was still engaged in his romantic-impressionist phase with the roughly contemporaneous Summer and Two Richard Jefferies Poems making the point. The quartet won the Cobbett prize. At 2.40 of the allegro ben moderato the great singing theme (almost Baxian in its poignant beauty) is sung by Michael Schofield's solo viola to the whispering accompaniment of the other members of the quartet - superbly done. Schofield, who provides the liner notes, points out that the English Quartet had given the premiere of the Debussy Quartet in 1913 and that this had left its mark on Bridge. The multiplicity of yearning lines is striking as is the allegro vivo with its dazzling onward rush of melodic material. Profusion and richness also characterise much of the finale which, unlike the First Quartet, ends rather conventionally in a stertorous gulp.

The Third Quartet finds a clarity - in fact a spareness and even a desolation - alien to the romantic apparatus of the first two quartets. Michael Schofield, in his notes, aptly points out the change to a style that presages the Berg Violin Concerto and links naturally to two works from 1927: There is a Willow Grows Aslant a Brook and Enter Spring. Compared with the first two quartets the Third inhabits a post-holocaust wasteland. Bridge does the eldritch bleak thing very well indeed. One can perhaps compare the effect this work had on the listening public with the impact Sibelius had with his Fourth Symphony on audiences used to the Tchaikovskian effusions of the first two symphonies. Surprisingly, the Third Quartet is an even tougher work than its successor.

Bridge's great gifts in quartet writing, never in doubt, were honed by his years as violist, first with the Grimson, then with the English. He also deputised in the Joachim Quartet.

There is competition for the Bridge Quartets. The New Zealand based label Continuum recorded them complete on two CDs with the Brindisi Quartet (the first intégrale). Like the Meridians these are only available separately. The harnessing arrangements are different so there is no exact comparison disc to disc. Continuum CCD 1035 couples numbers 1 and 3; CCD1036, 2 and 4. The Brindisi are recorded in a cooler acoustic and marginally less closely than the Bridge. The Bridge are more cautious in tempi than the Brindisi especially in the last two quartets. The Brindisi bring out the parallels with Bridge's Roger de Coverley arrangement in the second movement of the Second Quartet.

Warm and close recordings in utterly committed performances. Bridge's chilliest quartet matched with one of denser romantic fibre.

Rob Barnett

see also quartets 1,4

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