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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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!