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Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941)
String Quartet No. 1 (1906) [29.01]
String Quartet No. 3 (1926) [30.35]
Maggini Quartet
rec. Potton Hall, Suffolk, England, 18-20 June 2002
NAXOS 8.557133 [59.35]


The Magginis have plundered some more treasures from the vaults of early twentieth century British chamber music with this Naxos release of the first and third quartets of Frank Bridge. Increasingly Bridge is being performed and recorded as a composer in his own right as opposed to being the teacher that Benjamin Britten visited at Friston, in Sussex for private composition lessons.

All four string quartets that Bridge produced are well regarded and closely trace his development as a composer. The first quartet from 1906 is a dark late-romantic work but not written in the pastoral style associated with the quartets of his contemporaries such as Howells, Delius and Vaughan Williams. By contrast the third quartet of 1925-26 sees Bridge progressing to a harmonic idiom approaching that of Bela Bartók and Alban Berg.

The swiftly composed first string quartet is titled the ’Bologna’ owing to its entry into a Bologna music competition. It is a darkly emotional work infused with yearning and mystery with an undercurrent of melancholy. This agitated quartet does not sound like the work of a happy and contented man. There is a sense that something important was concerning the composer at the time.

In the third quartet Bridge writes with more progressive techniques yet the work still retains a fine sense of accessibility. The score is relentless in its activity and keeps its intense emotions simmering away as if in a pressure-cooker. If Bridge was passionate and romantic he certainly doesn’t display it through this music. What is striking is how Bridge bottles up what seems like anger and frustration in a work devoid of outward love and joy, where the occasional episodes of calm are only brief and unconvincing. The work ends on an unsettled note as if Bridge has serious unresolved personal issues.

The players have full measure of the melancholy and mysterious content present in the first quartet. Playing with a great passion and control the Magginis are not afraid to play extremely lento especially in the second movement Adagio. The second quartet is equally wonderfully performed and for me the highlight of the disc is the particularly eerie passage in the second movement Andante on track 6 between points 3:45-5:20 which they play to perfection. The composer allows the first violin little opportunity for solo display and keeps the viola and cello engaged throughout allowing the Magginis to display an equality of engagement with a real unity of performance.

With clear, crisp and dry sonics the players are very closely focused, so much so that this listener could almost hear the sound of the bows running along the strings as if sat next to their music stands. Personally I would have preferred to have heard these quartets with the Magginis a touch more recessed.

The Magginis are in top form and go from strength to strength. Another sure-fire winner from the champion Naxos stable.

Michael Cookson

see also review by Rob Barnett



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