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