Frank BRIDGE (1879-1940)
Piano Quintet in D minor, H49a (1904-05 rev. 1912) [29:25]
Cyril SCOTT (1879-1970)
Piano Quintet No. 1 (1924) [37:37]
Raphael Terroni (piano)
Bingham String Quartet (Steve Bingham (violin), Mark Messenger (violin), Brenda Stewart (viola), Miriam Lowbury (cello))
rec. 1989 St. Silas the Martyr Church, Chalk Farm, London, UK
BRITISH MUSIC SOCIETY BMS442CD [67:02]
This is a welcome reissue from the British Music Society. The recordings were originally released on audio cassette in 1990. The Bingham was formed in 1985 at the Royal Academy of Music and established itself as one of the leading string quartets in the UK. Founder and leader Steve Bingham and violist Brenda Stuart who feature on these 1989 recordings still play in the quartet today. Their pianist on this occasion Raphael Terroni who was renowned for his commitment to British music sadly died in 2012 - a great loss.
I am always keen to listen to chamber music from such fascinating English composers as Frank Bridge and Cyril Scott. They were born in the same year. Bridge’s music was firmly conservative but Scott was open to European developments. From the 1920s Bridge’s writing became more progressive; described in some quarters as radical. By comparison Scott who had studied at the Hoch Conservatory in Germany was more overtly pioneering as a composer. He was described by Eugene Goossens as “the father of modern British music.” There are a number of precedents for Bridge and Scott writing their piano quintets. Both composers would certainly have known those by Schumann and Brahms, and maybe the Saint-Saëns and the Franck. In addition Bridge’s composition teacher at the Royal College of Music, Sir Charles Villiers Stanford had written one to considerable acclaim in 1886 as had Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, a fellow Royal College of Music student in 1893. It has also been put forward that Joseph Holbrooke’s Piano Quintet ‘Diabolique’ Op.44 (1904) was a major source of inspiration behind both Bridge and Scott writing their piano quintets.
Brighton-born composer and violist Frank Bridge is still best known these days as Britten’s composition teacher rather than for his own compositions. A distinguished chamber player, Bridge wrote an especially fine body of chamber music and also works for solo piano, songs, orchestra, choir and some incidental music. There were no symphonies, cantatas (excepting A Prayer), oratorios or ballets but he did write an opera The Christmas Rose. Bridge seems shamefully neglected yet his works are heard from time to time. In recent years he has been served especially well on record by Chandos and Naxos.
Lasting just under thirty minutes to perform here the Piano Quintet in D minor was written in 1904/05 as a four movement score. Bridge revised it extensively in 1912 compressing it into three. The opening movement surges with the weight of aching passion. The emotion in the central movement is so intense that it feels as if it might overwhelm although it is counterbalanced by a central section of darting exuberance. Within the burning passion of the Finale: Allegro energico the players convey an undercurrent of deep anguish.
An alternative account of the Bridge Piano Quintet played by the Tippett Quartet with pianist Ashley Wass was recorded in 2009 at London on Naxos 8.572474 (c/w Bax Piano Quintet). This cannot quite match the match sheer weight of emotion that the Bingham/Terroni provide although their playing has greater security of ensemble and improved string intonation. I found the sound quality of the Bingham/Terroni account slightly more satisfying than the Tippett Quartet which seemed exceedingly close and rather fierce in the forte passages. Incidentally both accounts were recorded at St. Silas the Martyr Church, Chalk Farm.
Cyril Scott has the Chandos (no fewer than four discs of his orchestral music) and Dutton Epoch labels in particular to thank for a number of fine recordings including Dutton’s superb cycle of his piano works as championed by Leslie De’Ath (CDLX 7150; 7155; 7166; 7224 and 7183) not to mention Dutton’s CDs of his violin sonatas (CDLX 7200) and string quartets (CDLX 7138).
Desmond Scott, the composer’s son who runs the Cyril Scott website, informs me that almost all of the major works have now received recordings including some of the earlier works that Scott had rejected as immature such as the Symphony No. 1 in G major from 1899. Future releases on Dutton Epoch are the Piano Concerto (1900) played by pianist Peter Donohoe, the Cello Concerto (1902) with Raphael Wallfisch as soloist and the incidental music to Pelléas and Melisande played by the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Martin Yates. Still to receive recordings are numerous songs and a number of choral works notably the substantial secular oratorio Hymn of Unity (1947).
Completed in 1924 it seems that Scott’s Piano Quintet No. 1 might have originated as early as 1904/05 from a piano sextet. Dedicated to pianist Evlyn Howard-Jones this considerable score lasts here almost forty minutes. In this account the opening movement’s forceful writing includes craggy rhythmic lines and unremittingly shifting tempi. This is uncompromising music concerned more with mood than melody. An intensely restless feel imbues the short Scherzo-like second movement and the Adagio is intense and highly unsettling. Episodes of calm in the Finale are short-lived. Lyricism often threatens to break free from the concentrated, weighty and moody writing.
The balance between piano and strings is notoriously difficult to perfect. On this BMS recording the engineers achieve a most satisfying result although the intonation of the Bingham string players feels slightly uncomfortable at times. There is a most agreeable recording of Scott’s Piano Quintet No. 1 played by the London Piano Quartet with violinist Marilyn Taylor recorded in 2001 at London on Dutton Epoch CDLX 7116 (c/w Piano Quartet, Op. 16). Although glowingly played I didn’t feel that the London Piano Quartet/Taylor quite generated the amount of passion that I wanted compared to the Bingham/Terroni account.
This British Music Society disc is a most welcome addition to the CD catalogue. This is playing that is sincere, vital, passionate and highly responsive to the demands of these scores.
This is playing that is sincere, vital, passionate and highly responsive to the demands of these scores.
see also review by John France (March 2013 Recording of the Month)
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