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Bridge viola CHAN20247
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Frank Bridge (1879-1941)
Cello Sonata, H125 (1913-17, arr. viola, Hélène Clément)
There is a Willow Grows Aslant a Brook, H173 (1927, arr. viola, Benjamin Britten, 1932)
Three Songs, H76 (1906-07)
Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)
Elegy (1930)
Lachrymae, Op 48 (1950 rev 1970)
Hélène Clément (viola), Sarah Connolly (mezzo-soprano), Alasdair Beatson (piano)
rec. 2021, Potton Hall, Dunwich, UK
Texts included
CHANDOS CHAN20247 [61]

Frank Bridge was a professional violist but never wrote a viola sonata. His most famous pupil, Benjamin Britten, also played the viola a little, and did compose a youthful Elegy for solo viola and the mature Lachrymae, written for William Primrose. It’s a situation resolved in this recording in which Hélène Clément, violist of the Doric String Quartet, arranges Bridge’s Cello Sonata for her own instrument.

There are numerous precedents for this; see, for example, Lionel Tertis’s John Ireland and Delius arrangements. In fact, there’s a more recent precedent in the shape of Veronica Leigh Jacobs’ own arrangement of the Sonata. However, Clément’s is thoroughly idiomatic, as one would expect of a violist, and the sonata works with equal force in this new guise. Its fluidity and fretful mood-changing episodes, as well as its rapt legato elements, are immediately appealing. In the reflective second (final) movement the plangent meditative piano chords encourage the viola to flit gently above, until more agitato paragraphs generate greater intensity. Whether in the cello original – it was written for Felix Salmond – or in this attractive and viable viola arrangement, Bridge’s handling of a melancholy-to-confident trajectory is masterly.

There is a Willow Grows Aslant a Brook, H173 was composed in 1927 for a small ensemble and arranged five years later by Britten for viola and piano. Bridge called it ‘an impression’ and there was a choreographed performance that led to Britten’s own arrangement in which he focused with precision on the work’s riven, austere melancholy. The Three Songs for voice, viola and piano were composed in 1906-07 and form a contrasting trio, from the expressive richness of Far, far from each other through the desolation of the Heine setting Where is it that our soul doth go? to the lovely setting of Shelley’s Music, when soft voices die. It’s a good thing Chandos prints the words, as Sarah Connolly’s diction is less clear than usual.

Britten’s Elegy is a watchful, uneasy work for a 16-year-old to have written. Clément employs Britten’s own fingerings. There are numerous recordings of Lachrymae, whether – as here - in the piano-accompanied version or in its guise for viola and strings. Clément and Alasdair Beatson take quite a direct route through the work, making the most of its pungent contrasts but controlling things well and binding the variations tautly so that there is no hint of any sagging. As a consequence, perhaps, the revelation of Dowland’s song is a touch cool but it’s of a piece with her conception as a whole which is brisk but not insensitive, structurally aware and tonally refulgent.

Which brings us to a minor point, but one that is covered in her section of the booklet notes. Clément plays throughout on the Giussani viola (Italian, 1843) owned and used by Bridge who gave it to Britten when the younger man left Britain for America.

This is a clean-cut and impressive survey of the music of teacher and pupil, and it has been finely recorded in Potton Hall.

Jonathan Woolf

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