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Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941)
String Quartet No. 1 (1906) [28.48]
String Quartet No. 4 (1937) [23.58]
The Bridge String Quartet
rec. Great Hall, Eltham Palace, 21-23 May 1997, DDD
MERIDIAN CDE 84369 [52.44]


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This is one of a pair of discs containing Bridge's four numbered quartets. The other disc is CDE 84311. Both discs forcefully illustrate the stylistic step-change which divides Bridge's pre-1918 works from those written the other side of that Great and murderous Divide of 1914-18.

The First Quartet is from 1906 when the composer was 27 and was written for the Bologna competition. In its torrential episodes we find parallels with the skid-sliding lyricism of the tonally very different Fourth. This music is more Gallic than British: early Fauré or Bonnal rather than Howells and fresher than Stanford or Parry. The Bridge give a good account of the work with lovely inward-playing in the multiform lines of the adagio molto (tr.5). Grace and delicacy as well as a healthy open air spirit dominate the Allegretto. The bucolic exuberance of the finale is sapped by the saturation of melodic lines (easier to discern and follow in the Continuum recording with the Brindisi Quartet though nowhere near as generously hearted). The clouds part soon enough and the density of lyrical yearning is deeply affecting when it rises to almost unbearable intensity as at 4.56. The composer's confidence in ending the whole work with a sigh rather than an exultant shout is notable. It is the only one of the quartets to be in four movements.

While Bax was hearing his regally relaxed Seventh Symphony at the New York World Fair and Bliss his Lisztian Piano Concerto, Bridge was completing the Fourth Quartet - a work from another world altogether. Bridge, beset by illness, had had a fallow period since 1932. This Fourth Quartet (the last) was written in the grip of the Second Viennese school but is still noticeably the work of a romantic. The lines are long and yearning - Berg rather than Webern. There is little stasis here. Joy is a presence but it is of a fleet and skittering type. While the piece lacks the ecstatic compelling lyricism of John Foulds' Quartetto Intimo from two years previously the slip-sliding chicane ride of parts of the Bridge have parallels with the Foulds. The quartet is given a completely convincing and wholeheartedly dedicated reading by the Bridge Quartet.

Competition for this repertoire is not exactly numerous. In the early 1970s Decca bravely issued a groundbreaking recording of the Allegri in the uncompromising last two quartets (never issued on CD as far as I can recall). Pearl issued the First Quartet coupled, I think, with the String Sextet. Chandos recorded the Second along with various succulent string quartet genre pieces at which both Bridge and Holbrooke were practised hands. Continuum, with grant aid from the Frank Bridge Trust, recorded all four quartets (CCD 1035 and 1036) with the Brindisi Quartet. This was the first complete set. The sessions took place in December 1990 and June 1991 at St Silas Church, Kentish Town, London. Composer Colin Matthews was the producer and the late and much-missed John Bishop was the Executive Producer. The same English-only essay on all four quartets appears in both Continuum volumes. The author is Bridge-expert, Anthony Payne - the same composer who 'realised' the Elgar Third Symphony sketches into a symphony. The Brindisi have a leaner sound than the Bridge and are marginally quicker on their feet in many of the movements especially in the last two quartets.

Both the Third and Fourth Quartets were commissioned by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge. The Fourth was premiered at Berkshire during Bridge's last USA visit in 1938.

The single fold of English only notes are by Michael Schofield, violist of the Bridge Quartet.

As a good recent recording you will find much to stimulate and enjoy in the Bridge Quartets work for Meridian. If you have a taste for tone that is leaner and with a greater and shriller aggression then the Continuums are probably for you. If you prefer a warmer, closer sound then go for this admirably presented disc.

Rob Barnett

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