Monday, 15 June 2009

Frank Bridge: Rhapsody for Two Violins and Viola

I recently had the pleasure of reviewing the new SOMM release of Frank Bridge’s chamber works. The Rhapsody Trio for two violins and viola is the only piece on this CD that I had not heard before. And my initial reaction is that it has suddenly become one of my favourite pieces of chamber music in general and Bridge in particular.

It was composed in 1928 and is largely written in Bridge’s later style. The sleeve notes describe the work as surreal, and Benjamin Britten is quoted as having written, “I can well remember discussions about this work, when as a boy I was working with Bridge, and heard a try-through if my opinion the work is decidedly worth has a strong fantastic character, very personal them sans wonderfully resourceful writing for the instruments.”

John Warrack writing in the Daily Telegraph (June 1965) notes the “brilliant and hitherto forgotten... trio of 1928, which shows in its immaculate craftsmanship and its weird, very non-English chromatic language...” Hindmarsh notes its fantastic and elusive character.”
The adjectives ‘surreal’, ‘fantastic’, ‘elusive’ and ‘weird’ suggest that somehow this composition is an aberration or even a freak, but I am not convinced that this work is not grounded in the British chamber music tradition and forms an integral part of Bridge’s development. My first reaction is that it appears to me to be one of the composer’s masterpieces.
Stylistically, there is no way that this work could be defined as being ‘pastoral’ in any accepted sense of the word: this is not the kind of ‘rhapsody’ that rhapsodizes on the Fens or on Bredon Hill. However, here is a strong sense of landscape in this piece and it is an English landscape on not an Austrian one. Berg may influence the process, but not the mood. It is perhaps a generalised landscape that is at one and the same time vernal and blasted. The artistic equivalent would perhaps be Paul Nash. Musically it strikes the same temper as There is a Willow grows aslant a Brook. At times, I was reminded of Peter Warlock’s masterpiece –The Curlew.
I need to spend much more time on this piece. I need to read up on its history, its reception and its construction.

This work can be heard on SOMM CD087

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