Frank Bridge: The Missing Piano Music Recordings
I recently had the pleasure of reviewing Mark Bebbington’s third,
and presumably final volume of ‘Piano Music by Frank Bridge’.
This cycle of music has been released by SOMM over the past
five years with the third volume arriving in the shops in the
summer of 2011. More than twenty years ago Peter Jacobs issued
the pioneering recording of Bridge’s ‘complete’ piano works
on the Continuum label. Unfortunately, Jacobs’s excellent series
is no longer readily available in shops, although I understand
that it can be found in a downloadable format and perhaps hard-copies
in second-hand CD shops. One needs to hunt around on the ’net.
Naxos has released two CDs of a projected three (?) CD cycle
with the pianist Ashley Wass. Volume 1 was issued on 2006 and
Volume 2 the following year.
From a ‘completist’s’ point of view none of the pianists mentioned
above have recorded all of Bridge’s piano works. Naturally,
we do not know what Naxos’ plans are, but one feels that the
project has been sidelined, if not abandoned. Both Mark Bebbington
and Peter Jacobs have given the vast majority of the piano music
listed in Frank Bridge: A Thematic Catalogue (Hindmarsh
1983); however there are a few omissions.
Most surprising is Mark Bebbington’s oversight of the second
set of Miniature Pastorals (H.149). This is a pity, because
they are delightful little pieces with memorable tunes and delicious
harmonies. To be fair, they are really children’s pieces, perhaps
Grade 4 or 5, but that does not mean they are devoid of value
and content. Ashley Wass has not yet recorded them, but Peter
Jacobs gives a good account in Volume 1 of his cycle. Mark Bebbington
has not chosen to record the heart-breakingly beautiful ‘Todessehnsucht’
(Come, sweet death) (H.181) which was arranged by Bridge for
inclusion in a book of Bach transcriptions commissioned by Harriet
Cohen. It was published in 1932. And finally, Bebbington has
not included the Lament (H.117) from 1915 which was composed
in memory of ‘Catherine’ who was a young friend of the composer
and who died when the German U-boat, U-20 torpedoed the
Lusitania. This work is best known in the version for string
orchestra; however Peter Jacobs has given this extremely moving
work in his cycle. It works well for piano and should be seen
as a part of the canon of Frank Bridge’s piano music.
The remainder of the works not recorded by Jacob, Wass or Bebbington
are typically pieces that have been ‘dished up’ in a number
Serenade (H.23) is short two-minute work which was composed
in April 1903. It would appear to have originally been for violin
or cello and piano. The work was subsequently published by Reid
Brothers in 1906 in a variety of versions. These included one
for piano solo and one for orchestra. The Serenade has
been released on a number of discs including Volume 6 of the
Chandos series of orchestral music (CHAN10310) and the ASV recording
of Bridge’s viola and piano music (CDDCA1064). It is a lovely
piece of salon music that moves just a little beyond that genre
in its subtlety.
A similar compositional history applies to the darker Norse
Legend (H.60) which was composed in 1905 and was also issued
in versions for piano solo, violin and piano, and an orchestral
version (CHAN 10012) which was made as late as 1938. There is
a version for viola and piano on NAXOS 8.572407.
The enigmatic “?” (H.90) was written sometime between 1906 and
1908. It is a tiny miniature lasting about one minute. The work
has never been published; however the autograph is in the Royal
College of music Library. It was written for a friend of the
composer, a Miss Florence Smith. From the short extract given
in Paul Hindmarsh’s catalogue, it would appear to be a humorous
and affectionate little number written in waltz time – a billet-doux,
The next omission is perhaps a moot point. One of Bridge’s best
known works is the Two Old English Songs: Sally in our Alley
and Cherry Ripe (H.119). Most music-lovers will know
these two delightful numbers in their incarnation for string
quartet or string orchestra: there are many recordings of this
work. However, a piano duet edition was also produced by G Schirmer
in 1916. It would be good to have a performance of this version.
The following ‘missing’ piece is a real Frank Bridge desideratum
– The Turtle’s Retort (H.147).This work has been recorded
in its orchestral guise by the Chelsea Opera Group (PEARL SHE600),
however as far as I can see there is no piano-solo version.
The piece, which is really a ‘one-step’, was written under the
pseudonym of John L. More for his publisher Winthrop Rogers.
Hindmarsh notes that it was published as one of Ten American
Dance Tunes – which was a collection of foxtrots, one and
two-steps and valses. It would have been fun to have included
this piece in one of the collected editions of Bridge piano
works on CD.
In 1921 Frank Bridge wrote incidental music for a play called
Threads (H.151) by Frank Stayton. Out of a considerable
amount of music composed for this production, two short pieces
were extracted. These are the Two Intermezzi – an ‘andante
molto moderato e tranquillo’ and a ‘tempo di valse’. They last
for about eight minutes. Although these were originally scored
for small orchestra, the music was also issued as a piano solo.
Ian Lace on MusicWeb International has well described these
two miniatures: - ‘The first... begins in sighs and continues
in plaintive wistful sweetness with just an occasional brass
protestation. In comparison, the second is... animated and theatrical...
mixing farce and romance with Eric Coates looking in from the
The final work that has been omitted (so far) by all three pianists
is the ballet score In the Shop (H.152). This work was
composed in 1921 for both piano duet (four hands, one piano)
and also piano solo. There are six movements: Introduction,
Allegro moderato, Giant’s Dance, Tempo di minuetto, Rent Collector’s
Dance, and a ‘Moderato and Finale’. The work lasts for nearly
fourteen minutes. In a letter to Edward Speyer Bridge explained
that ‘In the Shop’ was written for part of a Christmas entertainment
produced by the children of some friends’ (Hindmarsh p.117)
Selections from the work have been published by Thames Publishing
in 1999 in an edition prepared by Paul Hindmarsh. Four pieces
were also arranged by the composer for piano solo –Introduction,
The Giant’s Dance, Tempo di minuetto, and the concluding ‘Moderato
and Finale’. These remain in manuscript. Whatever the musical
value of these pieces they surely deserve to be recorded for
Frank Bridge: Complete music for piano (3 Volumes) Peter
Jacobs (piano) Continuum 1016, 1018 & 1019
Piano music by Frank Bridge (3 Volumes) Mark Bebbington
(piano) SOMMCD 056, 082, & 0107
Bridge Piano Music (2 Volumes released) NAXOS 8.557842
Note: I have not considered Kathryn Stott BRIDGE
Piano Works. This disc has been deleted and is not available
in download format. All the pieces recorded on this disc are
available in the Bebbington/Jacobs/Wass versions.
A Sea Idyll, H54a. Capriccios—No. 1 in A minor, H52; No.
2 in F sharp minor, H54b. Three poems—Ecstasy, H112b. The Hour
Glass, H148. Piano Sonata, H160. Vignettes de Marseille, H166.
Conifer CDCF186 (9/91)
Paul Hindmarsh, Frank Bridge: A Thematic Catalogue (London:
Faber Music, Faber & Faber, 1983).
John France, August 2011 ©
John France writes the blog British
Classical Music: The Land of Lost Content