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Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941)
String Quartet No. 2 in G minor (1915) [23.54]
String Quartet No. 4 (1937) [23.24]
Phantasy Piano Quartet (1910) [12.14]
Martin Roscoe (piano),
Maggini String Quartet
Rec 11-12 June 2003, Potton Hall, Suffolk
NAXOS 8.557283 [59.33]

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Although he is chiefly remembered today as the inspirational teacher of Benjamin Britten, Frank Bridge wrote some splendid orchestral music (including works such as The Sea and Enter Spring), in addition to a variety of operatic, vocal, chamber and instrumental compositions. He was, moreover, one of the leading musicians of his generation in other fields also, including performing chamber music, as a member of a leading string quartet, the English Quartet. He also developed a successful career as a conductor, though in later years he gave less priority to this aspect of his work.

Bridge is now recognized as one of the most advanced and cosmopolitan of the English composers of the 20th century. His technical command and his understanding of organising larger-scale forces were first rate, and he was never afraid to move into challenging, even uncharted territories of musical style and expression. For this reason he was not always appreciated and understood by contemporary opinion, but the fact that his music has stood the test of time and has been increasingly performed in recent years bears testimony to his artistic vision.

As a string player and a regular member of a major quartet, Bridge was well placed to compose music in this genre. Both his Second and Fourth Quartets bear witness to his mastery of the idiom, in general scope and in detail. The former gained immediate recognition in the form of the Cobbett Prize, and ranks among his very finest achievements. It is directly approachable music, whereas the Fourth Quartet, written twenty years later, is more of a ‘tough nut to crack’, from the listener’s (and probably the player’s) point of view. In each work there is a masterly control of line and direction, so that the finale forms a true conclusion to all the musical developments.

This new recording by the Maggini Quartet is a splendid achievement, with technically accomplished and artistically commanding performances aided by clear and atmospheric recorded sound. There is due attention to detail among the ensemble, but a sense of direction too. The latter seems at its strongest in the sweeping momentum of the outer movements of the Quartet No. 2, but the more elusive nature of the Quartet No. 4 finds the players equally committed. An advantage of getting to know the music through these committed performances might well be that the Fourth will in due course reveal its secrets fully to the responsive listener. At any rate there is much to admire on an initial hearing too.

Like so many English composers of his generation, Bridge was drawn to write a Phantasy Quartet in a single movement. For Piano Quartet rather than string quartet, the piano replacing the second violin, this performance features one of Britain’s finest pianists, Martin Roscoe. There is a splendid sense of teamwork in this well prepared performance, and again the recorded sound is good, with a natural balance amid a warm acoustic.

The Phantasy Quartet is an attractive piece, composed at a time when Bridge employed a more romantic lyricism. It makes an attractive addition to an already appealing programme.

Terry Barfoot

see also review by Tony Haywood

Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941) String Quartet No. 1 (1906) [29.01] String Quartet No. 3 (1926) [30.35] Maggini Quartet rec. Potton Hall, Suffolk, England, 18-20 June 2002 NAXOS 8.557133 [59.35]

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