Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Frank Bridge: Violin Sonata

Frank Bridge's Violin Sonata (H183) is not particularly familiar. It was composed in 1922 and duly dedicated to Mrs Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, the wealthy American arts patron.
This is a great Sonata and it is surprising that it is so little known and even less often recorded. It is a work that is part of the cluster of post-Great War compositions that were to mark a sea-change in Bridge's style. Gone is the pastoralism and naked romanticism. Instead the composer work in a complex musical language complete with nods to atonality, polytonality and bitonality. Yet somehow there is still a reflection of the old composer underlying this 'modernism.'
The Sonata is constructed in one movement - lasting just under 20 minutes. It is composed in four sections or episodes. The first is a complex and involved but never academic 'Allegro molto moderato'. This is followed by troubled 'Andante' that explores the depths of despair. It is almost scary in places. The 'Vivo e capriccioso' is Scherzo-like but with some dark passages. The work ends as it begins, A'llegro molto moderato'. There is certainly no consummation here. It is still shot through with pain and grief and a sense of futility.

I include transcriptions of two reviews from the contemporary pages of the Musical Times.
I have read Frank Bridge's new Sonata for pianoforte and violin with considerable pleasure. It is pleasant to consider music such as this, noting the easy mastery of modern idiom, the sure instinct for shapeliness of phrase and period. But the pleasure was not unalloyed. At times I had the uneasy feeling that Bridge is giving up his birthright as a gifted melodist for a mess of modern harmonies not native to his style. His technique is allowed to get the upper hand of his inspiration, and the most modern tricks suggest expediency rather than profound conviction. Such at any rate are the impressions of a reader. A perfect performance may possibly cast out our fears and solve our doubts.
Musical Times January 1934 p43
Frank Bridge's Sonata, completed in 1932, proved a vigorous example of its composer's mature style -very individual, very masterful in its treatment of the material, and very effectively written for the instruments. Structurally it is close-packed, containing the essential four movements of cyclic form compressed into one, which, far from sounding rigid, gives an impression of energetic order and freedom. It was extremely well played by Antonio Brosa and Harold Samuel, and the composer was called to the platform at the close. Not one of the least pleasures of the evening was to watch how delicately perceptive these players were to the different tone-values and styles of the music. Heroic in the Bridge Sonata, nothing could have exceeded their loving refinement and small-but perfect-scale of tone-values in the Mozart Trio. In Faure's Quartet the playing was as refined, but several degrees larger, lit up by French chic. The crisp phrases for pianoforte, against the softly rounded pizzicato accompaniment of the strings in the Scherzo, were really enchanting. M. M. S.
Musical Times February 1934 p174

The Frank Bridge Violin Sonata is currently available on two CDs – English Impressions with Lydia Jardon and Mireille Jardon and a disc that includes the Maurice Ravel Violin Sonatas performed by Charles Libove and Nina Lugovoy
It can also be appreciated on You Tube Part 1; Part 2; Part 3 & Part 4

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