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Frank Bridge (1879-1941)
Quartet in B flat (1900) [31:27]
String Quintet in E minor (1901) [30:56]
Bridge String Quartet (Madeleine Mitchell (violin I); Catherine Schofield (violin II); Michael Schofield (viola); Lucy Wilding (cello)); Ivo-Jan Van der Werff (viola II)
Location not given. Rec 2004
MERIDIAN CDE 84525 [62:23]
Experience Classicsonline

Anthony Payne is absolutely correct in asserting that "Frank Bridge’s chamber music is the one genre which affords a complete view of his extraordinary development." Scholars have long seen the four String Quartets as pivotal to any discussion of the composer’s stylistic achievement. For one thing they were composed at critical periods in the composer’s life and his relationship to world events. For another they show considerable successive advances on his earlier works. The path, and I exaggerate to make a point, can be seen to go from ‘salon music’ to post-Bergian essays of considerable complexity. Peter J. Pirie insisted that the string quartet genre provoked the composer to write his best music.

For many listeners Bridge is probably associated with the wonderful tone poem The Sea, the Suite for Strings or perhaps the magisterial Enter Spring. Pianists and singers will be aware of a number of accomplished essays in their chosen expertise. However, the chamber music is critical. If asked I would state that the Cello Sonata is the composer’s masterpiece – people are free to disagree!

Enthusiasts of Bridge’s music have the Quartets available in two complete editions – that of Naxos (see reviews 1 and 2) and Meridian (see reviews 1 and 2)– and in the past Continuum (Brindisi). Individual quartets are found on a number of labels including Lyrita. Yet the catalogue of chamber works is extensive: Piano Trios, Sextet, Quintets and Phantasy Quartet. All demand our attention.

The two works presented on this CD are important to our understanding of Bridge’s music. They may not be masterpieces, but they are certainly valuable works that are well worth discovery. Both were composed when Bridge was still a student of Stanford at the Royal College of Music.

It would be easy to try to point to influences and references in these two works. For one thing, Bridge was an accomplished violin and viola player. By the turn of the century he had explored the then current repertoire. The programme notes point out that in the years 1900-1901 he performed in at least three major chamber music concerts. These included Brahms’s String Quintet Op.111, the Dvorak Terzetto and the same composer’s E flat Quintet Op.97. Mendelssohn was still a force to be reckoned with at that time. Finally, there was the Stanford influence. It used to be fashionable to state that this was a negative attribute and led a young composer to stifle his creative ability. However, Stanford’s reputation has been largely reappraised over the past quarter century and he has emerged as a highly competent and imaginative, if conservatively-minded composer. His music can be compared favourably with much that was written in the Victorian and Edwardian period at home and abroad. The old image of ‘dry as dust’ has been discarded by most critics. What he most encouraged in his pupils, was a sense of professionalism. It is this quality that informs these two works.

The String Quartet in B flat is written in four well-balanced movements. The opening ‘adagio’ showcases the viola – effectively Bridge’s preferred instrument. Yet soon the music opens out into a somewhat ‘Bohemian’ mood. The programme notes suggest that this may have been a reminiscence of his performance of the Dvorak Terzetto? The adagio returns to cast a shadow over the proceedings and the movement ends reflectively. The scherzo chases away the ‘blues’ with the avowedly Mendelssohn-like ‘allegro’. However the ‘trio’ section is perhaps the most telling. Here is what can only be described as ‘pastoral music’ which manages to avoid being sentimental.

The slow movement, an ‘andante’, is really beautiful. To what extent this can be seen to pre-empt the later Bridge is a matter of debate. Michael Schofield in the programme notes, suggest that it nods to the Novelletten of 1904 and the Three Idylls of 1906. However, one thing is certain; this is a well written and beautifully poised movement that adds considerable weight to this Quartet. The final presto is in complete contrast to what has preceded it. I am not convinced by Schofield’s use of the adjective ‘jocular’ – there is a depth and even an ‘edge’ to this music that is anything but ‘end of the pier’. However I do agree with his description of this movement as ‘confident’. In fact I would apply it to the entire Quartet!

The String Quintet in E minor is in some ways even more impressive than the Quartet. It was written in 1901 and once again is largely a product of Bridge’s time with Stanford. This work owes less to Mendelssohn and more to Brahms and, perhaps, as Schofield suggests, the nascent Richard Strauss. Certainly the German romantic style is the predominant influence. The main structural difference from the Quartet is the fact that this is a cyclical work which is based on a motto theme. Even a superficial hearing would allow the listener to understand that it pervades much of the music. Yet without the score and the opportunity of analysis it is difficult to decide to what extent this constructional technique is used.

The slow movement is truly gorgeous: the main theme is a simple but attractive melody. Yet the central section is more complex and angst-ridden. The innocence of the opening measures does not return. The ‘scherzo’ is a well crafted and technically complex piece. Here we see some fingerprints of the composer’s later works. Furthermore Michael Schofield is absolutely correct in pointing out the ‘theatrical’ effects that form part of this movement – the glissandi and the chromatic scales, for example.

The final movement, the ‘allegro molto vivace’ is exciting. It is seemingly written in a kind of modified sonata form. However the second subject somewhat steals the show with a touch of well-judged Edwardian sentimentality. But Bridge does not forget that this is a cyclic composition and we conclude with references to the work’s opening.

It is a brave thing that Meridian has done. As I mentioned above they have released a cycle of the ‘well known’ String Quartets and obviously decided to complete the project with these early works. It would have been so easy to have decided to leave them in the vaults. I am not sure if they have been published – although I somehow doubt it – so there was much preparation to do with the holographs. The Bridge Quartet plays these works with beauty and with great understanding and enthusiasm. The sound quality is excellent and the presentation of the CD very good.

These two works will never take a permanent place in the chamber repertoire. That is as sad as it is understandable. Yet for Frank Bridge enthusiasts this is an essential CD. No-one who loves the chamber music of this great British composer ought to be without these two works.

John France

see also

Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941) CD 1 String Quartet No. 3 (1927) [29:58] String Quartet No. 4 (1937) [22:27] CD 2 Piano Trio No. 2 (1929) [30:36] Phantasy Piano Quartet (1910) [12:45] Miniatures for Piano Trio (Set 3) (c. 1907 pub. 1915) [8:42] Allegri Quartet , Tunnell Trio ; Brian Hawkins (viola) ADD 2CDs for the price of one LYRITA SRCD.302 [52:29 + 52:08] [JF]

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] [RB]

Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941) String Quartet No. 2 (1915) [32.43] String Quartet No. 3 (1926) [25.23] The Bridge String Quartet rec. London, 20-22 May 1996, DDD
MERIDIAN CDE 84311 [58.02] [RB]

Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941) Piano Trio No. 1 Phantasie Trio (1907) [17.21] Piano Trio No. 2 (1929) [30.08] Miniatures (1907) [23.37] Dussek Piano Trio rec. St Olave's School, Orpington, 1994. DDD MERIDIAN CDE 84290 [71.23] [RB]

Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941) Enter Spring, Summer – Tone Poem for Orchestra, Christmas Dance – Sir Roger de Coverley Academy of St Martins in the Fields (recorded 1996)
Sonata for Cello and Piano Mstislav Rostropovich (cello) and Benjamin Britten (Piano) (recorded in 1968)
Go Not Happy Day Kathleen Ferrier (contralto) accompanied by Frederick Stone (piano) (recorded in 1952) DECCA 470 189-2 [57:11] Midprice [IL]

FRANK BRIDGE (1879-1941) COMPOSER, COURAGEOUS REVOLUTIONARY AND PACIFIST by Rob Barnett

 


 




 


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