Over the years listeners
have found Bridge’s changes of direction
somewhat bewildering. It’s not as if
it were a completely linear development.
It’s true that there is basically a
first period of high class salon music,
a second period of intense chromaticism
and a radical, expressionist third period.
Radical, that is to say, in the British
context. It is also true, however, that
this logical enough process could be
interrupted by charming relapses towards
salon music, such "A Fairy Tale"
(1917) which hardly sounds as if it
were posterior in date to "Dance
Poem" (1913), "Summer"
(1915) or the "Three Poems"
(1914-1915) which are included here.
Also to 1917 belong the pretty Miniature
Pastorals (Set 1), presumably intended
as educational music rather than for
As I say, Bridge’s
development can seem confusing enough
when heard in chronological order, which
is surely how a complete edition ought
to be arranged. Instead we have a first
disc which jumps back and forth from
early to late making a cat’s breakfast
of any chance we have of following the
composer along his unusual path.
Still, if that were
all that was wrong ….
The disc begins with
"A Fairy Tale", charming light
music with a touch of greater depth
in "The Spell". The suite
opens with "The Princess",
a lilting waltz-like piece. Wass makes
a nice sound, but does not differentiate
in touch between the melody in the left
hand and the arpeggios in the right.
The result is that the music just sounds
like harmonic doodling. He has an impeccable
feeling for timing and rubato, but if
the essential pianistic colours are
lacking the music doesn’t stand a chance.
In the second piece, "The Ogre",
the marcato passages are all played
forte, even though Bridge has carefully
graded the dynamics from piano to mezzo-forte
and forte. "The Spell" is
likeable where the music is basically
chordal, but over on the third page,
where a sinuous counter-melody appears
in the inner parts, there is again no
differentiation in colours between melody
and counter-melody. The last piece,
"The Prince", is OK when it
is boisterous, but when an elegant,
lyrical melody starts in the left hand,
you just wouldn’t know it was there.
I could stop here,
and I think that non-specialist readers
might stop reading at this point. The
message is clear: whether or not Bridge’s
piano music is for you is not something
you can fairly discover by buying this
disc. If I continue it is because I
realize I am dismissing the work of
a pianist who has won golden opinions
for this disc elsewhere and in similar
repertoire (Bax, which I haven’t heard)
and I think I should give chapter and
verse as to why.
"The Hour Glass"
is a work which will potentially appeal
to those who love "Summer"
and "Dance Poem". The middle
number was long a favourite until the
chill winds of the later 20th
century rejected a piece called "The
Dew Fairy" on principle. In the
first piece, "Dusk", Bridge
has made it quite clear what he wants,
marking the melody – in the middle voice,
as befits a viola-player – "piano"
and the right-hand figures, as well
as the bass-line, "pianissimo".
Lest this should not be enough, he also
wrote "la melodia ben cantando".
Evidently it was not enough; and it
would not even be enough to play the
one louder than the other. Different
colours are called for or the
listener will again perceive the music
as harmonic doodling.
"The Dew Fairy"
is marked "Allegretto moderato
e rubato"; I call Wass’s tempo
an Andante, and very sleepy the fairy
sounds. The booklet-note writer, Andrew
Burn, knows what’s what when he says
that "the shimmering flight of
The Dew Fairy provides translucent
contrast". I doubt if he was basing
himself on this performance. And why
make a diminuendo in the first bar of
line 2 of page 4 when Bridge wrote a
crescendo, and why go slower on
the next line when Bridge wrote Più
animato (and when he did write
allargando three lines below)?
I have no score to
"The Midnight Tide" and can
only hope that it need not sound as
turgid as it does here.
The Miniature Pastorals
were intended as teaching pieces. They
have no individual titles but each was
accompanied in the original edition
by a drawing. Writing down for children
is always risky and these are very flimsy
pieces – a good many composers without
a tithe of Bridge’s talent, such as
Rowley or Dunhill, actually managed
far better in this particular field.
Nonetheless, the first has a certain
wistful charm, mainly well brought off,
except that here and there Wass changes
the character by adding some staccatos
where he thinks Bridge didn’t write
enough. The second is marked "Tempo
di Valse" and could serve the children
as a preliminary exercise in colouring
the different voices – the second page
is really a three-part invention. They
would need a better maestro than Wass,
however, if the three parts are not
to coagulate into ungrateful chromatic
chords as they do here.
The Three Lyrics are
among Bridge’s puzzlers. Originally
there were just two, written in 1921
and 1922 in a similar manner to "The
Hour Glass". Then in 1924, with
the groundbreaking experience of the
Piano Sonata behind him, Bridge added
a third in a much more astringent style,
so the set doesn’t really add up.
If anybody reading
this review has a score, I would ask
him to listen to Wass’s rendering, in
the first piece, "Heart’s Ease",
of the second page, line two, bars 3-4.
Can he deny that the listener will understand
the melody line to be C sharp-B-E, when
in reality it is C sharp-E, and the
B belongs to an inner voice? This is
symptomatic of much that is wrong with
these performances and could not distort
the music more if the notes themselves
had been actually changed.
the second piece, has plenty of dash
though it is perhaps more roguish than
dainty. But I have to take issue with
no. 3, "The Hedgerow". To
my ears Wass’s tempo is an andante,
not the prescribed "Allegretto
moderato". Bridge also marked the
main theme "delicato" and
this is all too chunky and opaque, lacking
the proper elegance (a sort of droll
waltz) and transparency to give a point
to all the strange twitterings and patterings.
With the "Three
Pieces" we jump back to the earliest
Bridge (1912, but the Minuet, no. 2,
was originally written in 1901). Modest
salon music and neatly done. I only
have scores for the first two but the
Romance, no. 3, is convincing.
The pair of pieces
called "In Autumn" is the
latest work on this disc (1924) and
a fine example of Bridge’s modernist
period. The first, "Retrospect",
is generally well done though I do feel
that the chords would sound less gritty
if the melody line had been separated
out with a different colour. I also
think that Wass might listen to Sir
Adrian Boult’s conducting of the "Lament
for Strings" (Lyrita, unavailable
as far as I know) as an example of how
a slow tempo can actually be all the
more poignant if it’s kept mobile. Bridge
has in fact written "Adagio ma
non troppo" (my italics). The
second piece, "Through the Eaves",
is taken at a rather comfortable tempo
for an Allegro, even an "Allegro
moderato e rubato" and the melody
in the middle voice is only intermittently
clear. It isn’t at all evident, for
example, that the melody is starting
again at the end of line 3 of page 2,
and Bridge wrote "espress."
over it. This is another case where
the note-writer seems to know better
than the pianist – he describes it as
"a fleeting vision shot through
with rustlings and furtive movements".
The "Three Poems"
are middle-period Bridge (1914-15),
intensely chromatic and at times suggestive
of Scriabin. The first, "Solitude",
has a highly sophisticated pianistic
texture. The right hand has a melody
in long notes, marked "dolce",
and a sinuous counter-melody, marked
"espress.", so different colours
have to be found for these. The left-hand
has a bass-line in long notes and a
rocking figure which often gets tangled
with the right-hand counter-melody.
If the two are not well-separated, then
a new counter-melody gets created which
Bridge didn’t write at all. I’m afraid
that’s what happens here.
The second piece is
called "Ecstasy", but gets
a rather sedate response from Wass.
This is a piece where nothing less than
the equivalent of Horowitz playing Scriabin
will do. In the final piece, "Sunset",
Wass does make some attempt at the proper
voicing for once.
So that’s the long
and short of it. Apart from the early
"Three Pieces", very minor
works in any case, the music is inadequately
represented in a number of important
ways. The result is that any sort of
assessment of its actual quality is
impossible. Unfortunately, I don’t know
the alternative cycle by Peter Jacobs
(Continuum) and the only other version
I know of any of these works is Frances
Gray’s of the "Three Poems".
This suffers from the same failure to
colour the separate voices in "Solitude",
an equally sedate response to "Ecstasy"
and too fast a tempo for "Sunset"
– so that makes her worse still. One
thing is certain – an issue like the
present can do no good at all.
I am aware that issues
of this kind usually get automatic rave
reviews. If anyone takes issue with
what I have written, I hope he will
do so, not in blind rage but taking
up my specific points, score in hand.
Since writing the above,
I have had the opportunity to hear the
third volume of Peter Jacobs’ cycle,
which includes "The Hour Glass"
and "Three Lyrics". I have
also received for review the first volume
of a cycle by Mark Bebbington (SOMMCD
056). This will be reviewed independently
in due course. For the moment it will
provide a third comparison for "The
For the most part,
Peter Jacobs finds convincing solutions
for the passages I queried in Wass’s
performances. To start with the Three
Lyrics, in "Heart’s Ease"
the melody line on p.2, line 2, bars
3-4 is unmistakably C sharp-E as written.
I also prefer his more mobile tempo
here. The piece is mainly marked "lento"
but it is in 3/8 not 3/4 so should presumably
have the one-in-a-bar feeling that Jacobs
gives it, avoiding any stickiness. "Dainty
Rogue" is more upfront and boisterous
from Jacobs – he gives the music more
overall shape. Ideally something of
the lightness of Debussy’s Puck seems
called for – neither performance is
really "dainty" – but this
is certainly the better of the two.
Jacobs is quite remarkably quicker in
"The Hedgerow" – 02:37 compared
with Wass’s 04:03. Certainly the scurryings
and scamperings are very busy indeed
and nobody can say the hedgerow is not
teeming with life. I still feel there
is an underlying elegance – a droll
sort of waltz – which is not captured,
but at least you will find the music
interesting in Jacobs’s performance.
Turning now to "The
Hour Glass", Jacobs has the inner
melody of "Dusk" singing warmly
and the upper parts as gentle as harebells.
He differentiates between the two, not
only by dynamics but by timbre.
It is magical. Bebbington is better
than Wass at bringing out the melody
but only by dynamics, not timbre. Quite
frankly, to my ears all three play "The
Dew Fairy" andante not allegretto
moderato, but Jacobs and Bebbington
are at least floating if not quite fleeting
– Jacobs is the swifter with Bebbington
somewhere in between. Without a score
of "The Midnight Tide" I can
only report that Jacobs held my attention
more surely while with Bebbington’s
performance I once again thought the
piece turgid, at least at the beginning.
I enjoyed the later stages rather more.
So on this showing
the Jacobs cycle seems unchallenged,
even if it is not always ideal. The
Bebbington cycle seems more promising
than the Wass and I shall look forward
to hearing the rest of the disc.
review by Em Marshall who was more
impressed with this disc
with Ashley Wass
An issue like the present
can do no good at all. ... see Full