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Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941)
Piano Quintet (1905-12) [30:21]
Three Novelletten for string quartet (1904) [12:44]
Rhapsody Trio for 2 violins and viola (1928) [17:26]
Lament for 2 violas (1912) [8:59]
Cherry Ripe (1916) [3:19]
Sir Roger de Coverley (1922) [4:31]
Bridge Quartet (Colin Twigg and Catherine Schofield (violins); Michael Schofield (viola); Lucy Wilding (cello)); Michael Dussek (piano)
rec. 13-15 December 2008, St Philip's Church, London SW16. DDD
SOMM SOMMCD087 [77:56]


Experience Classicsonline

Frank Bridge’s Piano Quintet is a bit like the legendary No.8 London bus – they seem to arrive in twos and threes. Only a few weeks ago I reviewed the fine Hyperion recording of this work, coupled with the Three Idylls and the great Fourth String Quartet. The pixels were hardly set on that review when this present Somm release dropped onto my doormat. There have been other recordings of this piece over the years. More than a decade ago ASV issued this work with the Coull Quartet on ASV CDDCA678. Additionally, I also seem to recall an old Enigma Classics LP (K.53578). There is also an edition of this Quintet for chamber orchestra and piano available which was realised by the Bridge scholar, Paul Hindmarsh. There was also a version issued on cassette only by the British Music Society (BMS411) with Raphael Terroni (piano) and the Bingham Quartet. (Ed.)

When approaching this Quintet it is important to realise that it was extensively rewritten in 1912. The original work was composed in 1905 and was conceived in four ‘muscular’ movements. After a few performances the composer chose to withdraw it. However a few years later he decided to completely rework the piece. The major changes involved the fusing together of the second and third movements and the re-use of scherzo material from the former ‘allegro con brio’ which became the central section of the ‘adagio.’ And finally Bridge made the work cyclic by re-introducing themes from the first movement into the final allegro. 

We do not have a recording of the original incarnation of this Quintet, so the listener will have to take the work as presented. However, it is clear that the resultant reworking is a major contribution to the chamber music repertoire: it provides a challenge to the five soloists and is totally rewarding to the listener. I wrote in my review of the Hyperion version of this Piano Quintet that it was “fresh, enjoyable, moving and deserving of greater popularity. It is rapidly becoming a favourite of mine from the considerable catalogue of Frank Bridge’s chamber music”. I have not changed this view. 

I have always felt that the Novelletten are more important in the Bridge catalogue than may normally be given credit for. Even the sleeve notes suggest that they are simply ‘character pieces’. Now whilst not wishing to argue that they are works of genius, I would suggest that as an entity they seem to look forward to Bridge’s later more acerbic style whilst losing none of their inherent romanticism. It is a balance that is well contrived and totally successful. The work’s title Novelletten suggests a nod toward Schumann and the Germanic romantic tradition and this certainly seems to be the case although the Englishness of the music is never absent. The title suggests a short story so it is entirely appropriate that the music reflects this with a constant change of mood, rhythm and texture. Although the work is not formally cyclic, there are a few references to earlier material as the work progresses. 

The Rhapsody Trio for two violins and viola is the only work on this disc that I had not heard before. And my initial reaction is that it has suddenly become one of my favourite pieces of Bridge – overnight. 

It was composed in 1928 and is largely written in Bridge’s later style. The sleeve-notes describe the work as surreal, and Benjamin Britten is quoted as having written, “I can well remember discussions about this work, when as a boy I was working with Bridge, and heard a try-through if it ... in my opinion the work is decidedly worth reviving ... it has a strong fantastic character, very personal them sans wonderfully resourceful writing for the instruments”.

It was first commercially recorded in 1978 on Pearl LP SHE547 by John Georgiadis (violin); Neil Watson (violin) and Brian Hawkins (viola). 

John Warrack writing in the Daily Telegraph (June 1965) notes the “brilliant and hitherto forgotten... trio of 1928, which shows in its immaculate craftsmanship and its weird, very non-English chromatic language...” Hindmarsh notes its fantastic and elusive character”. 

The adjectives ‘surreal’, ‘fantastic’, ‘elusive’ and ‘weird’ suggest that somehow this composition is an aberration or even a freak, but I am not convinced that this work is not grounded in the British chamber music tradition and forms an integral part of Bridge’s development. My first reaction is that it appears to me to be one of the composer’s masterpieces. 

Stylistically, there is no way that this work could be defined as being ‘pastoral’ in any accepted sense of the word: this is not the kind of ‘rhapsody’ that rhapsodizes on the Fens or on Bredon Hill. However, here is a strong sense of landscape in this piece and it is an English landscape on not an Austrian one. Berg may influence the process, but not the mood. It is perhaps a generalised landscape that is at one and the same time vernal and blasted. The artistic equivalent would perhaps be Paul Nash. Musically it strikes the same temper as There is a Willow grows aslant a Brook. At times, I was reminded of Peter Warlock’s masterpiece –The Curlew

The Two Pieces for two violas was written between in 1911-1912. The sleeve-notes remind us that Bridge wrote this work “at the height of a career as a phenomenally busy and talented violist”. They were composed for Lionel Tertis and were first performed by the dedicatee and the composer [probably] on 18th March 1912. The Musical Times suggested that they were ‘attractive.’ The Lament has been edited and published by Paul Hindmarsh, but I understand that although there are a few sketches of the first piece, Caprice, it is largely un-restorable. 

The Lament is a truly lovely piece – I feel that ‘attractive’ is something of an understatement. It is actually a fine romantic piece that last for a full nine minutes. It is almost sonata length and explores a wide range of emotion in its three-part structure. 

The final two short works are well known, but delightful nonetheless. Both Cherry Ripe and Sir Roger de Coverley are available a variety of instrumental and orchestral guises. Cherry Ripe, which was composed in May 1916, is deemed to be at the ‘popular’ end of the Georgian musical market. Yet the quality of the writing removes this work from the salon. It is well crafted and full of attractive scoring and part writing. Originally Cherry Ripe appeared as the second of Two Old English Songs. Somm have well-filled this present CD but it is a pity that somehow, the first number, Sally in our Alley could not have been shoehorned in! 

Sir Roger de Coverley is based on a well-known (a least it used to be) English dance tune. Hindmarsh, in his Bridge catalogue writes that the composer “has reflected its chief function as a ‘whirlwind’ finale to a Christmas Ball.” Certainly the tune is manipulated in a remarkable variety of ways and is effectively a set of ‘continuous variations’ –or “a short choreographic poem of fantasia”. Certainly the orchestral version of this piece would make a fine, but ultimately too short, ballet score. Bridge enthusiasts will not need to be told that the work ends with an appearance of the tune ‘Old Lang Syne’ as a counter-melody to the ‘Sir Roger’ dance. So not only is Yuletide celebrated, but the New Year is ushered in as well! 

My only criticism of this CD is that I felt that the programme notes could have been more detailed. Some of these works are major and deserve more than 80-odd words (vide Novelletten).

The Bridge Quartet and Michael Dussek give a fine account of all the pieces on this well balanced programme. It would be invidious to try to compare all the various complementary recordings of the works on this CD. If I had to choose between this and the Hyperion version of the Quintet I guess that I would nudge toward the latter – simply because I feel it is played more passionately. But the other side of the coin is that this CD is worth buying quite simply for the Rhapsody. This was the major discovery for me and it is great to have an excellent rendition of what must surely be regarded as one of Frank Bridge’s chamber music masterpieces. It is a disc that all Bridge enthusiasts will insist on having in their collections.

John France

And a further perspective from Rob Barnett:

The luxuriant romantic melos of the Bridge Piano Quintet instantly suggests a soul-mate kinship with Rachmaninov  and Fauré. It was written in 1904 and its romantic atmosphere may owe something to Bridge's forced separation at the time from Ethel Sinclair who was later to become his wife. The original four movements shrank to three when the composer revived the work in 1912. The Bridge Quartet catch its soulful flow with complete conviction and a speaking eloquence. It has about it the heroic adversarial quality of a major piano concerto and a melodic romantic ebb and flow best appreciated in the combined middle movement. The compass needle swings back to triumph for a climactic heroic finale in which love conquers adversity - it's an innocent victory. Strange how the three Novelletten at first sound much later than their true 1904. There is a Russian triumphalism about the last Allegro vivo Novellette. Later comes the Rhapsody Trio - written ten years after the end of the Great War. The language has almost completely changed from the heroics and impressionism of the Novelletten and Quintet. This is Bridge the avant-gardiste: the Bridge of the two last string quartets and the Piano Trio No. 2. It’s a surreal twilit blend with Bergian tendrils of melody and a chittering and twittering interplay that make it a memorable presence in the catalogue. Recordings have not been numerous. The first was on Pearl LP SHE547. The Lament for Two Violas was premiered by the composer and Tertis at the Bechstein Hall in 1912. It's a subdued piece without the melodic fibre of the orchestral Lament. As liberation from this dark mood the last two pieces are the birdsong counter-pointed Cherry Ripe and the splendidly pointed Roger de Coverley with its drone accompaniment and masterly threading of Auld Lang Syne with the de Coverley dance at 3.23 - such playful intricacy and exuberant zest. This is a generous collection, filling many gaps, addressing the two Bridges separated by a war to end all wars. The performances and recordings are vivacious, subtle and faithful to his mercurial muse. The Bridge are a practised and sensitive ensemble and Michael Dussek is a doyen among the pianists who have made themselves familiar with this repertoire. Good notes in French and English but I am none too sure about the ever so pink cover!

Rob Barnett


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