Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Frank Bridge: The Missing Piano Music Recordings

I recently had the pleasure of reviewing Mark Bebbington’s third, and presumably final volume of ‘Piano Music by Frank Bridge’. This cycle of music has been released by SOMM over the past five years with the third volume arriving in the shops in the summer of 2011. More than twenty years ago Peter Jacobs issued the pioneering recording of Bridge’s ‘complete’ piano works on the Continuum label. Unfortunately, Jacobs’s excellent series is no longer readily available in shops, although I understand that it can be found in a downloadable format and perhaps hard-copies in second-hand CD shops. One needs to hunt around on the ‘net. Naxos has released two CDs of a projected three (?) CD cycle with the pianist Ashley Wass. Volume 1 was issued on 2006 and Volume 2 the following year.

From a ‘completist’s’ point of view none of the pianists mentioned above have recorded all of Bridge’s piano works. Naturally, we do not know what Naxos’ plans are, but one feels that the project has been sidelined, if not abandoned. Both Mark Bebbington and Peter Jacobs have given the vast majority of the piano music listed in Frank Bridge: A Thematic Catalogue (Hindmarsh 1983); however there are a few omissions.

Most surprising is Mark Bebbington’s oversight of the second set of Miniature Pastorals (H.149). This is a pity, because they are delightful little pieces with memorable tunes and delicious harmonies. To be fair, they are really children’s pieces, perhaps Grade 4 or 5, but that does not mean they are devoid of value and content. Ashley Wass has not yet recorded them, but Peter Jacobs gives a good account in Volume 1 of his cycle. Mark Bebbington has not chosen to record the heart-breakingly beautiful ‘Todessehnsucht’ (Come, sweet death) (H.181) which was arranged by Bridge for inclusion in a book of Bach transcriptions commissioned by Harriet Cohen. It was published in 1932. And finally, Bebbington has not included the Lament (H.117) from 1915 which was composed in memory of ‘Catherine’ who was a young friend of the composer and who died when the German U-boat, U-20 torpedoed the Lusitania. This work is best known in the version for string orchestra; however Peter Jacobs has given this extremely moving work in his cycle. It works well for piano and should be seen as a part of the canon of Frank Bridge’s piano music.

The remainder of the works not recorded by Jacob, Wass or Bebbington are typically pieces that have been ‘dished up’ in a number of guises.
Serenade (H.23) is short two-minute work which was composed in April 1903. It would appear to have originally been for violin or cello and piano. The work was subsequently published by Reid Brothers in 1906 in a variety of versions. These included one for piano solo and one for orchestra. The Serenade has been released on a number of discs including Volume 6 of the Chandos series of orchestral music (CHAN10310) and the ASV recording of Bridge’s viola and piano music (CDDCA1064). It is a lovely piece of salon music that moves just a little beyond that genre in its subtlety.
A similar compositional history applies to the darker Norse Legend (H.60) which was composed in 1905 and was also issued in versions for piano solo, violin and piano, and an orchestral version (CHAN 10012) which was made as late as 1938. There is a version for viola and piano on NAXOS 8.572407.
The enigmatic “?” (H.90) was written sometime between 1906 and 1908. It is a tiny miniature lasting about one minute. The work has never been published; however the autograph is in the Royal College of music Library. It was written for a friend of the composer, a Miss Florence Smith. From the short extract given in Paul Hindmarsh’s catalogue, it would appear to be a humorous and affectionate little number written in waltz time – a billet-doux, really.
The next omission is perhaps a moot point. One of Bridge’s best known works is the Two Old English Songs: Sally in our Alley and Cherry Ripe (H.119). Most music-lovers will know these two delightful numbers in their incarnation for string quartet or string orchestra: there are many recordings of this work. However, a piano duet edition was also produced by G Schirmer in 1916. It would be good to have a performance of this version.
The following ‘missing’ piece is a real Frank Bridge desideratum – The Turtle’s Retort (H.147).This work has been recorded in its orchestral guise by the Chelsea Opera Group (PEARL SHE600), however as far as I can see there is no piano-solo version. The piece, which is really a ‘one-step’, was written under the pseudonym of John L. More for his publisher Winthrop Rogers. Hindmarsh notes that it was published as one of Ten American Dance Tunes – which was a collection of foxtrots, one and two-steps and valses. It would have been fun to have included this piece in one of the collected editions of Bridge piano works on CD.
In 1921 Frank Bridge wrote incidental music for a play called Threads (H.151) by Frank Stayton. Out of a considerable amount of music composed for this production, two short pieces were extracted. These are the Two Intermezzi – an ‘andante molto moderato e tranquillo’ and a ‘tempo di valse’. They last for about eight minutes. Although these were originally scored for small orchestra, the music was also issued as a piano solo. Ian Lace on MusicWeb International has well described these two miniatures: - ‘The first... begins in sighs and continues in plaintive wistful sweetness with just an occasional brass protestation. In comparison, the second is... animated and theatrical... mixing farce and romance with Eric
Coates looking in from the wings.’
The final work that has been omitted (so far) by all three pianists is the ballet score In the Shop (H.152). This work was composed in 1921 for both piano duet (four hands, one piano) and also piano solo. There are six movements: Introduction, Allegro moderato, Giant’s Dance, Tempo di minuetto, Rent Collector’s Dance, and a ‘Moderato and Finale’. The work lasts for nearly fourteen minutes. In a letter to Edward Speyer Bridge explained that ‘In the Shop’ was written for part of a Christmas entertainment produced by the children of some friends’ (Hindmarsh p.117) Selections from the work have been published by Thames Publishing in 1999 in an edition prepared by Paul Hindmarsh. Four pieces were also arranged by the composer for piano solo –Introduction, The Giant’s Dance, Tempo di minuetto, and the concluding ‘Moderato and Finale’. These remain in manuscript. Whatever the musical value of these pieces they surely deserve to be recorded for completeness.

Frank Bridge: Complete music for piano (3 Volumes) Peter Jacobs (piano) Continuum 1016, 1018 & 1019
Piano music by Frank Bridge (3 Volumes) Mark Bebbington (piano) SOMMCD 056, 082, & 0107
Bridge Piano Music (2 Volumes released) NAXOS 8.557842 & 8.557921

Note: I have not considered Kathryn Stott BRIDGE Piano Works. This disc has been deleted and is not available in download format. All the pieces recorded on this disc are available in the Bebbington/Jacobs/Wass versions.
A Sea Idyll, H54a. Capriccios—No. 1 in A minor, H52; No. 2 in F sharp minor, H54b. Three poems—Ecstasy, H112b. The Hour Glass, H148. Piano Sonata, H160. Vignettes de Marseille, H166. Conifer CDCF186 (9/91)

Paul Hindmarsh, Frank Bridge: A Thematic Catalogue (London: Faber Music, Faber & Faber, 1983).

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