William WALTON (1902-1983)
Piano Quartet (1919) [28:49]
Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941)
Phantasy in F minor (1910) [12:24]
Guillaume LEKEU (1870-1894)
Piano Quartet (1893) [23:25]
Frith Piano Quartet (Benjamin Frith (piano); Robert Heard (violin): Louise Williams (viola): Richard Jenkinson (cello))
rec. Oak Hall, Rhos-y-Gilwen Mansion, Pembrokeshire, 24-26 October 2010
Though there seems no overriding logic at work here, let me suggest that youth is the major emblem of this disc. Walton was a teenager when he wrote his Piano Quartet, though it wasnít published until 1924 and he continued, as was his wont, to tinker with it for many years. Itís heard in the 1976 revision. Lekeuís uncompleted Piano Quartet was written in 1893, the year before his very early death. It received a recording on 78, published in Britain by Decca - a fine recording, never since reissued - but itís also garnered a few recordings on CD. Bridgeís Phantasy, part of the Cobbett competition vogue, was written when he was 31, so itís the product of a man, in comparison, greatly stricken in years, though it does date from Bridgeís most exciting and vital early period.
Waltonís quartet is full of energy and excitement, and was soon being played by some of the best British chamber groups of the time, most notably the Chamber Music Players (Sammons, Tertis, Kennedy, and Murdoch) who took it into their repertoire in the early 1930s. The supple second movement, a sizzling scherzo, is especially attractive, with just a few, possibly unexpected Vaughan Williams fingerprints. The warm cantilena of the slow movement is another highlight, its yearning directness finely judged in this performance, where dynamics are well shaded, and its relatively extended length well sustained. The increasingly introverted expression is also conveyed with assurance. Trenchancy is a characteristic of the finale, a blunt rhythmic dynamism that moves into a kind of folk fugato at one stage.
Frank Bridgeís 1910 Phantasy is an immediately attractive and succinct work that fits the W.W. Cobbett Competition single-movement theme perfectly. Itís performed adroitly here, and rather better than the London Bridge Ensemble on Dutton CDLX7254, who are a bit too sentimental. Yet, the Frith Piano Quartet has to cede to the Maggini Quartet members and Martin Roscoe on Naxos 8.557283 for true perception in Bridgeís lexicon. The Friths are somewhat less arresting and also a touch less affectionate than their Maggini rivals, though you would be very happy with the performance otherwise.
The final work, by Lekeu, offers a non-British torso of a Piano Quartet. Itís robustly and intensely played, no doubt, though there are certainly other ways to approach its post-Franck effusion. Try the Spiller Trio with Oscar Lysy on Arts 47567-2, who are much more leisurely in the first of the two surviving movements, for example. Still, for explosive commitment this Frith performance will do especially nicely.
The recording has been well judged, so too the booklet notes. This admittedly somewhat unwieldy programme nevertheless deserves to do well.
Jonathan Woolf
This unwieldy programme nevertheless deserves to do well.