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Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941)
Phantasie Quartet (1905) [10:55]
Novelletten (1904) [11:00]
Three Idylls (1906) [13:41]
An Irish Melody – The Londonderry Air (1908) [7:41]
Sir Roger de Coverley (1922) [4:30]
Sally in Our Alley (1916) [4:06]
Cherry Ripe (1916) [3:29]
Three Pieces: Allegretto [0.48]; Moderato [1:24]; Allegro marcato [2:11]
Maggini Quartet
rec. All Saints, East Finchley, London, 16–17 December 1994. DDD
NAXOS 8.553718 [59:55]

This has been something of a staple of the Bridge chamber discography for a decade or so and additionally charts the early mastery of the Maggini Quartet in this kind of repertory.

The bulk is of early Bridge. I spent several hours at the Royal College of Music in London not long ago and went through the College’s concert programme collection. Bridge was a prominent performer at college chamber concerts, often with members of the prototype English String Quartet of which he was the violist. He features alongside luminaries such as C Warwick Evans - later cellist of the London Quartet - and a host of soon-to-be senior players on the London circuit. Small wonder that, by 1906, by which time he’d written the Phantasie Quartet, Noveletten and the Three Idylls he evinced such control of architecture and texture.

The Phantasie Quartet conforms, just about, to the Cobbett Competition prescriptions as to form. The Maggini decisively bring out the tersely enjoyable march rhythms of the Allegro moderato. Balance and voice leading are thoughtful and considered; dynamics are assured. The mixture of geniality and incision that informs the final panel of a work that falls into three distinct moods is a splendid end to a winning traversal. Bridge here was nowhere near as adventurous harmonically or stylistically as his contemporary viola-playing colleague H Waldo Warner, whose own Phantasie Quartet drifts to France for its inspiration. It’s well worth a recording. It’s not had one since about 1923 when Warner, a member of the London Quartet, recorded it for Vocalion.

The Novelletten preceded the Quartet by a year. They’re actually rather more forward-looking than the Quartet, especially the first. The fine density of tone in unison passages alerts one to the Maggini’s confidence here. Equally the playfulness and more serioso side of the central piece are well coalesced. The sweetly assertive Allegro vivo is spiced with rubato-aware panache.

The Three Idylls is the finest work here. The harmonic advances and greater sophistication of expressive nuance are palpable. The Maggini are particularly successful in exploring the introspective quality of the first of the three, where their playing reaches a fine plateau of understanding. The last of the three is notable for the kind of élan that graced the Phantasie Quartet.

To round out the programme we have a selection of favourites. Bridge plays thematic and harmonically teasing games with The Londonderry Air and spins out a genial Sir Roger de Coverley with a naughtily emergent counter theme. The final works are the Three Pieces, charming shavings from the chamber bench, the longest of which is the last at two minutes. This last is described in the notes as a bit of "Brighton Pier" – not inappropriately as it’s a cheeky slice of English music making. I have a fondness for the second of the three pieces, though, which is a charming and wistful little Moderato. Bridge could turn his hand to Music Hall and to Light music when he wanted to.

Succinct and very decent, though not optimum, sound completes the package. You might prefer the Coull in the Three Idylls for its greater obvious expression (Helios CDH55218) and somewhat better recorded quality but it’s coupled with the quartets of Elgar and Walton. As a single disc devoted to Early Bridge the Maggini’s is still a classy contribution.

Jonathan Woolf


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