It is absolutely necessary to explore this excellent, CD in
a systematic manner. The last thing the listener should do is
through-listen without a break. I would suggest a largely chronological
The Berceuse, which is the earliest piece on this CD
was originally composed for violin/cello and piano in 1902.
It was ‘dished up’ in a number of arrangements, including one
for violin and orchestra, and also large and small orchestras.
However, in 1929 a version was published for piano solo. This
is a gorgeous little work with a ‘gentle, lulling tune’ that
fully justifies its title. Like much of Bridge’s so-called ‘salon’
music, this goes beyond the genre with its subtlety and elegance.
Amongst the early pieces are three short works that may or may
not be grouped together: the Moderato, the Pensée Fugitive
and the Scherzettino. They are presented as having separate
catalogue numbers in Paul Hindmarsh’s catalogue.
The ‘Moderato’ was composed in September 1903 which was some
five months after Bridge had left the Royal College of Music.
It is a rare little work that has hints of Vaughan Williams
and is composed in a contrapuntal style, rather than with complex
The Pensée Fugitive from the summer of 1902 is a lovely
little piece that is varied and interesting, certainly summing
up the idea of a ‘fleeing thought’.
The Scherzettino was composed sometime between 1901 and
1902. It is a student work, but is none the worse for that.
These three works are not particularly remarkable, however they
were probably written to demonstrate various pianistic styles
and techniques: they may not have been meant to survive into
The Three Poems (1915) are remarkable pieces. The liner-notes
rightly suggest that the composer is beginning to develop his
musical language, without upsetting the sensibilities of his
‘Edwardian admirers’. It would appear that originally these
pieces were to be issued as ‘Four Characteristic Pieces’ which
also included the Arabesque (1916). The three poems are
‘Sunset’, ‘Solitude’ and ‘Ecstasy’. I find them quite challenging:
they certainly contain a greater concentration of emotion and
depth of interest than some of the earlier examples. For one
thing there is an increasing chromatic feel, however this is
not an abandonment of tonality but a certain blurring around
the edges. This is especially evident in the ambiguous ‘Solitude’.
‘Ecstasy’ is massive, involved, colourful and full of passion.
The Arabesque sounds much more antagonistic than the
title would suggest; certainly this is no ‘will o’the wisp’
piece of whimsy.
The Three Improvisations (for the left-hand) were composed
for the pianist Douglas Fox who had tragically lost his right
arm during the Great War. The three pieces are: ‘At Dawn’, ‘A
Vigil’ and ‘A Revel’. The first two numbers are filled with
emptiness and foreboding. The last is a little more open-hearted,
but certainly does not fully justify the title. However, there
is a rare beauty about these improvisations that defies analysis.
Interestingly, the composer wrote to Fox, ‘I doubt whether you
will be attracted when you try the pieces through at first,
but just work at them a little and then I fondly hope they will
stand up on their own legs and smile at you.’ There seems little
to ‘smile’ about however, in these Improvisations.
Mark Bebbington recorded the Miniature Pastorals Set
1 in the second volume of his Bridge cycle. However, he has
not chosen (so far) to include the second set dating from 1921.
The present Miniature Pastorals Set 3 was not published
in the composer’s lifetime. There were sketches and fair copies
for three pieces dating from 1921 plus sketches only for a fourth.
The first three were finally published in 1978 in an edition
edited by Paul Hindmarsh: these include an ‘andante molto tranquillo’,
an ‘allegro con moto’ and an ‘allegretto vivace’. The fourth
piece, a ‘marziale e ben marcato’ was not included in the sheet
music as it was felt that the composer had rejected it: according
to Hindmarsh, the ‘musical quality falls far below that of the
other pieces’. Calum MacDonald has defined these pieces well:
he suggests that they ‘represent an elegant simplification of
his mature idiom’. They are truly delightful numbers that do
not suffer from being in the gift of amateur pianists.
One of the few pieces of Frank Bridge that I can play tolerably
well is ‘Heart’s Ease’ from the Three Lyrics. So it holds
a special place in my ‘heart.’ Alas the other two pieces are
not quite so ‘easy’. ‘Dainty Rogue’ could be a picture of Robin
Goodfellow or Puck: it is a frisky little scherzo that is demanding
of the player with its light figuration and chromatic passages.
As Lewis Foreman says, Bridge ‘prefers his scherzos to be thistledown
rather than hobnail boots’. The final ‘Lyric’ is ‘The Hedgerow’.
I am not sure that this piece is evocative of the English (or
any other) landscape. Yet this work is a clever little confection
– which opens with the promise of a folk-tune melody – that
soon develops into something a lot more ‘advanced’. Yet the
‘tune’ is revisited – in spite of the rhythmic and metrical
diversity of the contrasting material.
The first two ‘Lyrics’ were composed in 1921-22 and the final
one was not written until 1924. As Calum MacDonald has noted
they therefore ‘frame’ the great Piano Sonata.
It has been suggested that in some ways this little suite could
be seen to epitomise the composer’s career - so far. Perhaps
‘Heart’s Ease’ nods to the salon music of the Edwardian years,
‘Dainty Rogue’ may represent the ‘advanced’ chromaticism of
the post-Great War period and the final ‘The Hedgerow’ could
be pushing towards atonality.
Winter Pastoral from 1925 is written in Bridge’s ‘later’
chromatic style. In this case it is not a virtuosic piece; it
can be played by any good pianist. However, its ‘chilly’ language
and subtle balance of dissonance and traditional harmonies are
difficult to ‘pull off’ well. It describes a cold, frosty morning
to perfection. However, it is a million miles away from any
kind of ‘folksy’ bucolic pastoral scene.
I love the little short ‘Canzonetta’ (1926) which was originally
called ‘Happy South.’ It is a good balance between the dreamy
pastoral mood of the outer sections and the short, and more
frenetic ‘trio’. However this irruption is short-lived: the
gorgeous mood soon returns and the piece ends in quiet contemplation.
It would make a good pendant to the Vignettes de Marseille.
Another innovative work from 1926-27 is Hidden Fires.
Lewis Foreman notes that this piece was specifically composed
for the recital room and demands total technical competence.
Mark Bebbington’s website suggests that this work is a ‘simmering
toccata [that] recalls Scriabin’s Vers la flamme. It
is certainly the composer moving beyond his usual comfort zone,
perhaps towards Bartók and bitonality? Yet he never entirely
evacuates romanticism from the work.
The year 1926 also saw the somewhat mysterious A Dedication.
For one thing, the work would appear to carry no actual dedication
on either the printed score or the holograph. The musical basis
of this piece seems to be two simple themes; however they are
developed in a ‘dislocated’ manner that tends towards harmonic
complexity and ‘tonal ambiguity’. This is a deeply felt piece
that would appear to inhabit the same mood as that of the Third
String Quartet and the later Oration for cello and orchestra.
The last original solo piano piece that Frank Bridge wrote is
usually regarded as his ‘harmonically most advanced piano work’.
In fact, Gargoyles, which was composed in July 1928 was
rejected by his publisher and lay unheard until 1975, when the
pianist Isobel Woods performed it at a musical conference. This
is an enigmatic, sarcastic, daring and technically demanding
work that well reflects the title. This work is in total contrast
to the early Berceuse composed a quarter of a century earlier.
Yet in spite of the ‘bitonal procedures,’ its atonal mood and
the largely impressionistic feel, there is a certain intangible
something to Gargoyles that makes this piece as much
a part of Bridge’s canon of piano music as the salon pieces
of the Edwardian years.
It is not possible to fault any part of this CD production by
Siva Oke and SOMM. The playing by Mark Bebbington is superb
and totally sympathetic to the various ‘periods’ of Frank Bridge’s
compositional style. The sound is perfect, the liner-notes by
Lewis Foreman are totally helpful and informative.
I am not sure if this is the final chapter of the Bebbington
Bridge Cycle – certainly there are a few more numbers that could
be recorded, but many of these are arrangements or ephemera
that may or may not be regarded as a part of the canon. Whatever
the future, this present CD presents a number of remarkable
and important works. It is a worthy part of what is a major,
important project that adds a vital chapter to British recorded
Frank Bridge biography
And a further review of this disc … by Rob Barnett
Mark Bebbington is a powerhouse of pianistic revival. Specifically the British composers of the last century benefit from his insight and application. Somm - a low key label with high key values - has been his home. The solo piano music of Arnold and Lambert, Elgar and Bush, Ireland (vol 1, vol 2, vol 3), Hurlstone and Dale have all been examined. There have also been two truly fascinating British piano and orchestra discs (review review).
Today we look to Somm's third volume of Frank Bridge. It vies only with the estimable Peter Jacobs on the long deleted Continuum label.
With a treble not overly bright, Bebbington leads us through the dreamy tonal groves of Sunset then in ambiguous tonality the halting tolling of Solitude and the pensive, softened and then demonstratively ringing dissonances of Ecstasy. This is very much the world of Baines and Medtner. Such is the parabola of the Three Poems.
Hidden Fires, which I do not remember encountering before recalls the darkened and vicious world of Bax's Saga Fragment and Winter Waters with a skittering scree of notes.
The elfin Arabesque is playful and only fitfully explosive. It has more about it of the salon.
The Three Pieces launch with a faintly Celtic Moderato which keeps switching towards English pastoral. The Pensée fugitive shivers in unhurried Rachmaninovian romance and has a melody to match. The Scherzettino is a decorative ‘gnomentanz’ rising to moments of Chopin-like ballade dramaturgy and pointed wit. Quite a kaleidoscope of moods.
Another of those marketable little triple portfolios, the Miniature Pastorals 3, comprises a misty-somnolent Andante molto tranquillo with a skipping and sun-warmed Allegro con moto. The latter has butterflies dancing in a warm breeze. The final page closes with a determined hiking allegro vivace which yet takes time to view the golden stooks.
The Three Improvisations are back in the world of the Three Poems. The writing in Dawn is tonally nuanced, ambivalent and meandering amid Schoenbergian tendrils and bleached moonlight. This is the world of There is a Willow and Phantasm. A Vigil is the centrepiece and it too is slow of pulse and warmly satiated. The shortest piece comes last: Revel is similarly orientated but here the pearl rivulets coruscate energetically.
The delicious Winter Pastoral is a work in transition with one foot in the candidly melodic style of Summer and the other planted in the idiom of the later years when life had become more complicated and when colder European breezes were blowing.
The Three Lyrics are also from the early 1920s. They are the work of a roguish master of poetry. Watery pastel hints of tonal complexity augur the challenging world of the Trio No. 2 and the last two string quartets. These hints become more than that in the fractured shards of a kaleidoscope in Hedgerows.
A dedication is in the same region as At Dawn while Berceuse is an affectionate Gallic sketch - a little Fauré in the morning. Canzonetta is a cantabile framing a momentary hobgoblin dance. Gargoyle was rejected by the publishers. it dates from 1928 and is pretty dissonant. Despite the static nature of such stone denizens this one is all about obsidian movement, polished and slippy as the molybdenum lip around a black chasm. It ends in a way that feels surprisingly unfinished.
This series comes to us through the generosity of the RCM Frank Bridge Bequest.
The other volumes are SommCD056 and SommCD082.
The liner essay in English and in French translation are by that doyen of the British music scene (and of a few others too) Lewis Foreman. He sets the specifics of particular works in the landscape of Bridge's life and other music.
Admirable in all respects. This is an adroitly played and assembled sequence and is extremely well documented.