Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Frank Bridge: Fourth String Quartet and other Chamber Music on Hyperion

I recently reviewed this excellent CD from Hyperion. Three major works from the pen of Frank Bridge is always an appealing prospect and this disc certainly fulfils its promise.
Perhaps the most important work on this CD is the Fourth Quartet. This is a major masterpiece. I admit that it has never been my favourite work – I prefer the composer’s more romantic offerings of the pre-Great War era - but I am slowly coming round to enjoying - if that is the correct word to use - it and perhaps even beginning to understand it. I certainly find that it moves me. I have written elsewhere that the Fourth String Quartet is a bit like Janus – it faces in two directions. It is easy to be overwhelmed by the harmonic language, which is often extremely dissonant. Much of the effect seems to derive from a counterpoint that clashes rather than agrees or resolves. The first impression is of a work that owes more to the Second Viennese School than to ‘Parry ’n’ Stanford’. However, according to the musicologists, the Quartet is not actually atonal: it is rooted in a very free form of tonality, which may be more obvious under scholarly analysis than to the ear.
Yet, the more I hear of this work, the more I come to realise that there is a passionate side to this Quartet. But perhaps this is hardly surprising. The influence of Schoenberg and his ‘school’ was not always anti-romantic. Just think of the Violin Concerto by Alban Berg, for example. The end product is a fine addition to the string quartet repertoire. The ‘note’ of Englishness has never quite left the imagination of this great composer.
I concluded my review by insisting that “this is a well balanced CD, with two relatively early works contrasted with his last major piece of chamber music. In fact, it was his last great work - with the exception of Rebus and the promise of the unfinished Symphony for Strings. In many ways this disc would be a good introduction to the sheer breadth of Frank Bridge’s chamber works, providing that the listener is not afraid of engaging with music that leans towards German expressionism. The opening Piano Quintet is as good as early Bridge gets. I note that the Three Idylls are somewhat melancholic, but this ‘mood’ issue apart; they are one of the composer’s masterpieces.
Fortunately there are a fair few versions of the Fourth Quartet available at the moment (Lyrita, Meridian, Naxos and Redcliffe). All these versions are worthy and each one has its supporters. However, for music as important as this (4th Quartet) there can never be too many recordings! All enthusiasts of Frank Bridge and of English chamber music will want to have this recording along with all the rest!
Please read the full review at MusicWeb International

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