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Friday, April 7, 2017

Frank Bridge - Phantasy Piano Quartet; Cello Sonata; Violin Sonata (Nash Ensemble)


Composer: Frank Bridge
  1. Phantasy Piano Quartet in F sharp minor
  2. Cello Sonata: 1. Allegro ben moderato
  3. Cello Sonata: 2. Adagio ma non troppo – Molto allegro e agitato – Adagio ma non troppo – Allegro moderato
  4. An Irish Melody "The Londonderry Air"
  5. Cherry Ripe
  6. Sally in our alley
  7. Sir Roger de Coverley
  8. Violin Sonata

The Nash Ensemble
Marianne Thorsen, violin (1, 4-8)
Laura Samuel, violin (4-7)
Lawrence Power, viola (1, 4-7)
Paul Watkins, cello (1-7)
Ian Brown, piano (1-3, 8)

Date: 2013
Label: Hyperion



For some reason, though the music of Frank Bridge (1879–1941) is recorded reasonably often, he has yet to make much headway in our general awareness or on concerts outside of Britain. To judge from reviews in this journal, his recording heyday was the 1990s, and much of that is of his songs and his chamber music, as, indeed, we have here. With one exception, the music on this disc is recorded in chronological order, as above, and one can hear the modest development in his style from the English Impressionism of the Cello Sonata (1913–17) to the slightly more acerbic strains of the Violin Sonata (1932). We are not talking about a great leap here, but a clear awareness that there are other sounds out there to be taken account of. This movement in Bridge’s style was taking place in the mid- to late 1920s, as in the orchestral poem, Enter Spring (1927)—just, as it happens, when the 15-year-old Benjamin Britten began studying with him. 

The Piano Quartet called “Phantasy,” from 1910, was the idea of Walter Cobbett, who commissioned 11 British composers to write single movement chamber works under the rubric of phantasie . This is the sturdy piece that established Bridge’s reputation. Though it breaks no new ground experimentally, it shows some of the strengths of Bridge’s later orchestral music from the 1920s. It isn’t “British” if we mean by that the pastoralism of, say, Vaughan Williams, but it has its own clear voice. In this sense, it strikes me as a more adventurous piece than the succeeding cello sonata, which takes part in the neoromantic impulse which drives much British music of the period. The four short folk-song arrangements, for string quartet, come from 1908 to 1922, and it is in these we can hear Bridges’s development toward his own style most clearly, especially in the last of them, on Sir Roger de Coverley . The Violin Sonata which concludes this program is a fine demonstration of where Bridge had arrived toward the end of his life. It is a strong piece and ought to be heard more often. 

The Nash Ensemble is a flexible chamber group. Here, it consists of Marianne Thorsen and Laura Samuel, violins, Lawrence Power, viola, Paul Watkins, cello, and Ian Brown, piano. They give a vigorous reading of the Phantasy Piano Quartet (H 94) that is to be recommended. Paul Watkins has recorded the Cello Sonata (H 125) before, with his brother (Nimbus, rev. 28:4), a recording I have not heard, but this one will do nicely. The folk-song arrangements are charming and contain few surprises, though the last one takes the tune apart and treats it more as thematic material than as a tune. The Violin Sonata (H 183) is not much recorded for some reason: the last review of one I can find in the Fanfare Archive is David K. Nelson’s from 2000 (23:6), which I have not heard. This version, however, can be heartily recommended. Paul Hindmarsh, whose catalog of Bridge’s works is the standard one, has contributed clear and helpful notes. 

-- Alan Swanson, FANFARE

More reviews:
BBC Music Magazine  PERFORMANCE: **** / RECORDING: ****


Frank Bridge (26 February 1879 – 10 January 1941) was an English composer, violist and conductor. He studied at the Royal College of Music in London from 1899 to 1903 under Charles Villiers Stanford and others. As a teacher. Bridge is remembered for privately tutoring Benjamin Britten, who later championed his teacher's music. During the war and immediately afterwards Bridge wrote a number of pastoral and elegiac pieces, but after the war his language developed significantly, with more complex, larger works, and more advance harmonic elements and motivic working.


London-based Nash Ensemble is a chamber orchestra consisting of 11 regular members, though their number can vary widely according to the work performed. The group's repertory is broad, but favors modern works by English composers. Founded in 1964 by Amelia Freedman, its longtime artistic director, the Nash Ensemble took its name from the famous Nash terraces in London, designed by architect John Nash.


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  2. Thank you. The Phantasy is very nice.

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