Sunday, 17 March 2013

Frank Bridge & Cyril Scott Piano Quintets on BMS Label


Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941) Piano Quintet in D minor, H49a (1904-5: rev.1912) 
Cyril SCOTT (1879-1970) Piano Quintet No.1 (1924)
Raphael Terroni (piano) Bingham String Quartet: Steve Bingham (violin) Mark Messenger (violin) Brenda Stewart (viola) Miriam Lowbury (cello)
British Music Society BMS442CD

The Frank Bridge Piano Quintet H49a is a masterpiece of European chamber music. However, based on the work’s general lack of acceptance amongst chamber music enthusiasts, it could be argued that my view has not yet caught on. I guess that for every one listener who gets to grips with this work, a hundred will tune into the examples by Brahms and Schumann. Yet whatever the relevant performance statistics, this is a fine work that is well-constructed, romantic and moving. It deserves all success.
The liner notes examine the incarnation of this piece (and the Scott) in considerable detail, however it is essential to realise the the present work H49a is in fact a major revision of an earlier work dating back to 1904.  This was not a minor tinker of a “muscular, four-movement work, with a huge piano part, brim full of musical ideas” but a complete restructuring.  For example, the original work’s second and third movements were recast into the long middle movement of the present work.  Frank Bridge introduced a cyclic element by revisiting a number of themes from the first movement into the ‘allegro energico’ which concludes the piece. 
One ‘peg’ to help put this work into context is the fact that there was a personal significance for the composer. He was dealing with the temporary absence of his wife-to-be Ethel Sinclair who was then staying in Australia. So there is found a sense of longing that balances the general romantic optimism of the music.
This Piano Quintet is successful at a number of levels – its complexity, the post romantic soundscape and the sheer technical complexity of the entire score. I wrote in my review of the Hyperion version of this Piano Quintet that it was “fresh, enjoyable, moving and deserving of greater popularity.  It is rapidly becoming a favourite of mine from the considerable catalogue of Frank Bridge’s chamber music”. I have still not changed this view.

I do not wish to get into a discussion about the genesis of the Cyril Scott Piano Quintet. The liner notes advise that it is even more complex than the Frank Bridge work! Apparently the ‘received wisdom’ is ‘far from consistent’ with varying shades of opinion emanating from the pens of Scott’s original biographer, Eaglefield Hull, the  performer, composer and musicologist David Wordsworth and the musicologist Lewis Foreman. Ian Parratt, who knew Scott personally, has also had his view about the gestation of this work.
The best bet would appear to be that the Quintet began life as a piano or string sextet which had been composed around 1904-5. The date of its first performance is also shrouded in mystery.
Henry Haddow, one of the adjudicators of the Carnegie UK Trust’s Publication Scheme which subsequently published the piece, suggested that the Quintet ‘is a queer work. Vaughan Williams, also on the committee, wrote that this work was ‘very long and rhapsodic and has no particular tune.’ However he followed this negative suggestion by noting that ‘it still has power and passion and ought to rank high.’ Yet the final opinion of the committee was that the quintet was ‘strong, vigorous, rugged, and written with obvious mastery of its resources and its medium.’ This judgement concluded by suggesting that it was ‘a notable addition to our repertory of chamber music.’ 
Many years later, The Times reviewer of the 2001 Dutton Epoch recording of this quintet suggested that ‘unless the listener is allergic to rhapsodic burblings and music couched in the grand manner without quite the substance to back it up’ this work would cause no pain. It is a view that I disagree with.  I guess it all comes down to the aesthetic judgement as to whether the listener equates rambling with rhapsodic...   However, the final word goes to Edwin Evans writing in Musical America in 1920 – he suggested that [Scott] is more concerned with the adornment of the building than with such things as supports and girders. And, be it said at once, his sense of ornament is exceptionally acute and inventive.’ 
My own take on this is that Scott’s Quintet is an earnest work that deserves attention. The sheer variety of instrumental texture and rhythmic activity far outweighs any formal deficiencies.

This CD, which was recorded back in 1989, acts as a fitting memorial to Raphael (Ray) Terroni who died at the relatively young age of 67 in August 2012. Terroni was a genuine all-round musician. He was a teacher – both private and at the London College of Music, an examiner, a festival director, an administrator and as the liner notes suggest, a ‘crusader for a vast range of music, both known for which he never lost his acquisitive enthusiasm and  (particularly ) unknown repertoire which he explored discerningly and promoted tirelessly.’ Terroni has made a number of innovative recordings including music by Lennox Berkeley, Eugene Goossens, Cyril Scott, Kenneth Leighton, Josef Holbrooke, Arnold Cooke, Arthur Butterworth and Eric Coates.  At least eight CDs of his performance are currently listed in the Arkiv catalogue. He makes an impressive and technically demanding contribution to this present CD.
The Bingham String Quartet plays with imagination and sympathy on both these works. This group is still going strong after 22 years. However the second violinist and the cellist have changed since this recording was made. 

I have no complaints about the excellent liner notes written by Giles Easterbrook.  It is a detailed study of the context, the genesis and the revisions of both works with a strong musical analysis to lead the listener through both these massive, complex works.  He has also set the scene, as it were, by giving a thumbnail sketch of the genre – beginning with Schumann’s ‘pioneering masterpiece’ and developing the trajectory by way of Brahms, Franck, Faure and Bartok. One of my own particular favourites that he mentions in passing is the great Quintet in D minor by Stanford dating from 1886.

As part of my review of this present CD I listened to extracts from the competition. The Bridge is represented by Ashley Wass and the Tippett String Quartet on Naxos, Daniel Tong (Bridge) and Philip Fowke (Scott) and the London Bridge Ensemble on Dutton, Piers Lane and the Goldner String Quartet on Hyperion and finally Michael Dussek with the Bridge Quartet on Somm. Each of these recordings has impressed me over the years. All of them approach both works with technical prowess and an innate sympathy and understanding which reflects the very different sound worlds of these two fine works. I am not going to plump for a favourite, save to say that all of them, to my ear at any rate, are worthy interpretations of these works. The present Terroni/Bingham Quartet is an important addition to the catalogue.
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published.

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