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Frank Bridge (1879-1941)
Piano Trios
Phantasie Trio in C minor (Piano Trio No.1) (1907) [16:29]
Piano Trio No.2 (1928-29) [31:57]
Nine Miniatures for Piano Trio (1908) [24:31] (Set 1 [6:29]; Set 2 [8:36]; Set 3 [9:26])
Jack Liebeck (violin); Alexander Chaushian (cello); Ashley Wass (piano)
rec. 30-31 March 2008, St. George’s Hall, Bristol.
NAXOS 8.570792 [72:57]
Experience Classicsonline


W.W. Cobbett, at a lecture given at the Royal Academy of Music, wrote that “Mr. Bridge’s Trio is of a remarkable beauty and brilliance and stamps him as one of our foremost composers for the chamber.” He concluded his comments by noting that this had a “…lavishness to which I can recall few precedents, he has provided thematic material more than sufficient for a lengthy work in sonata form.”

This above-mentioned Phantasy Trio was the winner of the 1907 Cobbett competition. The promoter had called for composers to write a “short Phantasy in the form of a piano trio.” Bridge secured a prize of 50 and a premiere performance, which took place on 27 April 1909 under the auspices of the London Piano Trio.

This Trio is written in the form of an arch – with the single movement ‘Phantasy’ form encompassing a sonata-style exposition and recapitulation alongside a slow section and an ‘allegro scherzoso’. The programme notes give an excellent analysis of the work which the listener ought to peruse before listening to this piece. This is a ‘sunshine’ work that sparkles from the first bar to the last. There are serious moments in this piece, but typically it lacks any of the angst or despair that was to inform Frank Bridge’s post-war music.

I have always felt that the Piano Trio No.2 is not an easy work to approach. It would certainly not be on my list of pieces intended to introduce a newcomer to the music of Frank Bridge. Even for listeners who know Rosemary, Cherry Ripe and The Sea this music will appear difficult, disjointed and perhaps even distant. The Second Piano Trio inhabits a world far removed from the salon music and orchestral tone poems of the composer’s Edwardian period. Yet, many commentators insist that it is Bridge’s chamber music masterpiece: this is a view held by Anthony Payne the composer’s advocate and biographer.

I recently reviewed this piece on Lyrita and commented that although I felt that it is a great work (my head) I knew that I would rather listen to the earlier chamber works for “sheer indulgence and enjoyment” (my heart). Yet it imposes and impresses itself on the listener with repeated hearings: it is a piece that has to be worked at by the auditor. I felt at the time of the Lyrita review that this work was beginning to reveal some of its ‘secrets and beauties’ to me. Perhaps this present recording has allowed additional elements of this complex piece to fall into place? One of the reasons I like the ‘early’ chamber work is the sheer ‘English’ quality of much of the writing - not in any ‘cow-and-gate’ sense of the word but in feeling and emotion. However there is nothing parochial about the work: it is European and owes much to contemporary developments on the Continent – especially the Second Viennese School of Berg and Schoenberg. Nevertheless, Bridge has not used any particular formula to write this work – he has breathed his own ideas into a certain prevalent sound-world intimations of which were blowing across the English Channel. In so far as this was the case he created something both convincing and impressive.

As far as I can divine there is no other currently available complete recording of the Nine Miniatures for Trio. These short pieces are not fundamental to the canon of works by Frank Bridge. Yet in many ways they offer an entertaining introduction to his lighter works, and more importantly, his chamber music. They were originally composed for one of the composer’s violin pupils, a certain Betty Hanbury and for her sister Helen who was a cellist. And finally another sister, Patricia, made it a family affair.

Each ‘group’ has three contrasting movements which explore a wide range of musical activity - from a March militaire to an attractive Romance. These are not necessarily easy works to play, but are well-crafted and grateful to young and amateur musicians. Bridge does not write ‘down’ to his potential performers: these are not patronising. In fact each of them is often quite beautiful, invariably interesting to play and enjoyable to hear. Professor Renz Oplis has written in The Chamber Music Journal that the “Miniatures … ought not to be dismissed as inconsequential student works suitable for neither amateur nor professional. On the contrary, any one of these tonally diverse and brilliantly written cameos would serve as a superb encore for a professional piano trio while amateurs will spend many a happy hour with these delightful works." And finally, these short works should be listened to individually and not as a group of ‘nine’.

I am totally impressed by the quality of the playing on this disc. Ashley Wass has recently established himself as one of the ‘Bridge’ aficionados … along with Mark Bebbington and Peter Jacobs. The sound is perfect which allows the listener the opportunity to hear these works in the best possible environment.

John France

  Bridge Trios – comparative versions
Piano Trios by Dartington Trio (Hyperion)
Piano Trios by Dussek Trio (Meridian)
Piano Trios by Bernard Roberts Trio (Black Box)


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