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Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941)
Piano Music: Volume 1

Suite, A Fairy Tale (1917): [11.19]
(The Princess: Allegretto con moto [2.49]; The Ogre: Allegro deciso [1.27]; The Spell: Adagio e sostenuto [4.12]; The Prince: Allegro giocoso [2.52])
The Hour Glass (1919-20): [14.15]
(Dusk: Molto moderato [4.59]; The Dew Fairy: Allegretto moderato e rubato [3.48]; The Midnight Tide: Molto lento [5.58])
Miniature Pastorals (Set 1) (1917): [6.09]
(Allegretto con moto [2.17]; Tempo di valse [2.09]; Allegretto ben moderato [1.44])
Three Lyrics (1921-24): [8.30]
(Heart's Ease: Andante tranquillo – Lento [2.34]; Dainty Rogue: Molto allegro e vivo [1.53]; The Hedgerow: Allegretto moderato [4.02])
Three Pieces (1912) [8.56]
(Columbine: Poco lento - Tempo di Valse [2.55]; Minuet: Tempo di Minuetto [2.04]; Romance: Andante molto moderato [3.57])
In Autumn (1924): [8.19]
(Retrospect: Adagio ma non troppo [5.37]; Through the Eaves: Allegro moderato e rubato [2.41])
Three Poems (1914-15): [11.55]
(Solitude: Poco adagio e molto espressivo [3.25]; Ecstasy: Lento e sostenuto - Allegro con moto [4.38]; Sunset: Adagio e sostenuto [3.51])
Ashley Wass (piano)
rec. Potton Hall, Suffolk, 19-21 April 2005. DDD
NAXOS 8.557842 [70.06]
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Frank Bridge was born into a musical family in Brighton. His father, amongst other activities, conducted one of the local variety orchestras, so it was not, therefore, surprising that he embarked on a musical career which later involved studying at the Royal College of Music under Stanford. His main musical instrument at the RCM was the violin although he was also an extremely proficient pianist and viola player, setting up the legendary English String Quartet before the First World War. He also had aspirations as a conductor and stood in for Sir Henry Wood at the Promenade concerts when the latter was indisposed. He wrote some wonderful orchestral music, including the well-known tone-poem The Sea (1913) written in the late-Romantic tradition rather reminiscent at times of his younger contemporary Arnold Bax. He had also written some beguiling and attractive chamber-music, much of it commissioned by Cobbett. However, he became increasingly dissatisfied with his own musical development and began to be influenced by contemporary composers of the 2nd Viennese school, particularly Berg. These feelings of dissatisfaction were compounded by his horror at the carnage during the war. He was greatly affected by the loss of many good friends including the composer Ernest Farrar to whom he posthumously dedicated his Piano Sonata (1924). It was at this time that he was introduced to Benjamin Britten by the latter’s viola teacher and Britten thus became his (only) composition pupil. He is, sadly, all too often only remembered as Britten’s teacher rather than as a brilliant composer in his own right. After the war his music was out of touch with the developments of his British contemporaries and followed the path of 12-note serialism. Few other British composers went through such an enormous transition in musical styles as Bridge and as a result of this, his music tended to be discarded and then forgotten.

All the above is pertinent to a consideration of Bridge’s piano music, which is here played with great elegance and understanding by Ashley Wass. Interspersed on the disc is music written at the height of his tonal period when he was in great demand by the publishing houses for producing what we now rather disparagingly call salon pieces. This includes the charming Three pieces, a sequence written for children and here given a disarming performance. He wrote the Three Poems just before the First World War, when he was completing his last romantic-style tone poems (Summer, etc). It is perhaps surprising that the first music on this disc, the enchanting suite, A Fairy-tale (1917) must have been written during the height of his despair during the war. It has none of the angst of some of the other works of this period and is beautifully Debussy-esque. The disc has been well-programmed in that the unpretentious and effortless pieces are interspersed with the later, darker, more chromatic music which he wrote immediately following the war. In particular, the third movement of The Hour Glass (1919-1920) - the Midnight Tide - is an incredibly awe-inspiring movement which develops from huge sombre clashing chords into a cataclysm of descending octaves. Although not quite so intense, the same mood prevails in In Autumn, written in 1924 at the time of completion of his most famous work for piano, the Piano Sonata. He was able to complete the latter work thanks to a very generous allowance paid to him by Mrs Coolidge, an American patroness. She also commissioned works from other contemporary composers such as Britten, Prokofiev and Poulenc. He received this allowance for the rest of his life; this enabled him to concentrate on composition and to produce the great works of his late period such as the 3rd String Quartet, Oration for cello and orchestra and Enter Spring.

Ashley Wass demonstrates a tremendous feel for the whole range of Bridge’s piano music. To appreciate his delicacy on the one hand and power on the other, one should listen on equipment which is able to convey the full dynamic range of this recording. This is a pianist who has taken this music extremely seriously and as a result has produced performances of insight and sensitivity. Naxos has done great service to British music and one can only look forward to volume 2 of Bridge’s piano music, which includes Wass playing the extraordinary powerful Piano Sonata.

Em Marshall

see also review by Christopher Howell who was less impressed with this disc

Interview with Ashley Wass

Frank Bridge website


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