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English Piano Trios
Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941)

Phantasie in C minor (1907)
James FRISKIN (1886-1967)

Phantasie in E minor (world premiere recording) (1909)
John IRELAND (1879-1962)

Phantasie in A minor (1906)
E. J. MOERAN (1894-1950)

Piano Trio in D major (1923-25)
Cantamen: (Caroline Balding, violin; Jo Cole, cello; Timothy Lissimore, piano)
Recorded at Tonbridge School concert hall, 22nd-24th March 1996.

This is disc is a superb advert for both the sterling work done by the British Music Society, all of whose discs can now be obtained through Musicweb, and for four valuable pieces of chamber music. The three shortest, by Bridge, Ireland and Friskin are bound by the common thread of being written for and successful in the influential Cobbett "Phantasy" Competition. The remaining work, Moeran's Piano Trio is one of the finest English chamber compositions you could hear and, despite being a relatively early in his oeuvre, is in a totally idiomatic vein for a composer whose haunting evocations of the landscape and folk music of the lonely places of the Norfolk and west Irish coastlines have long since gripped this listener. There is a more recent recording of the Trio, accompanying the two superb string quartets, on a very desirable ASV disc, but this performance by Cantamen is more than adequate and possibly a greater labour of love at the time of recording. Michael Jones' intelligent booklet notes find some overlap with the equivalent music of Moeran's older friend John Ireland (his trio is also recorded here) but even a casual listen should reveal a unique musical mind at work. Within its four movements, the work reveals many of the trademarks of its creator, from the dancing, jig-like rhythms of the faster music to the nostalgic laments of the slower sections. As in many of his best works, the great Symphony in G minor is a case in point, Moeran makes explicit the close connections between the folk traditions of Ireland and England, and like the aforementioned string quartets, the trio medium allows a pared down, more intimate approach to setting elements of these traditions within a "classical" context. There are very few works by Moeran which I do not admire but this ranks very highly, along with, in addition to the symphony and quartets, the two concertos and Lonely Waters. Anyone with any interest in 20th century British chamber music should know this remarkable piece, whether in this very commendable version or an alternative recording.

The Moeran aside, perhaps the most important aspect of the disc is the inclusion of a world premiere of James Friskin's E minor Phantasie. Friskin is perhaps best known for marrying Rebecca Clarke who, by way of some coincidence, provided the coupling on the alternative recording of the Bridge and Ireland I used for a comparison to this disc - The Hartley Trio on the now defunct Gamut Classics. Clarke's masterful trio is in a different league to Friskin's, and probably the Bridge and Ireland too, but the latter was still well worth a recording and deserves the widest hearing. The single movement, the form stipulated by the Cobbett "Phantasy" brief, has plenty to hold the interest, including some folksy, dancing rhythms that show some kinship with Moeran and probably owe something the composer's Scottish ancestry. It shared the second prize with Ireland's Phantasie in the competition although I would say it is the better piece.

Ireland's work is congenial enough but hardly begins to compare with his most important later works - the piano works like Sarnia, orchestral masterpieces such as The Forgotten Rite and the marvellous Piano Concerto. Cantamen's version lasts over a minute longer than that of the Hartley's but there is little to choose between them. Similarly Frank Bridge's early Gallic-Romantic style characterises his C minor Phantasie and is very pleasant to hear without ever giving any indication of the more forward looking, experimental idiom found in late works such as Oration and Phantasm.

All in all, this disc is very recommendable - the Moeran is, as far as this listener is concerned, a masterpiece of its kind, the Friskin a welcome change and the other two pieces, although not their respective composers' best work by any stretch of the imagination, eminently listenable. The performance and recording are of a good standard and, in conclusion, I would urge anyone interested in the British classical heritage and, indeed, its future, to support the invaluable work the BMS does, both through its recordings of neglected music and composers and its various publications.

Neil Horner

British Music Society


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