Frank Bridge Songs and Chamber Music, Dutton Epoch CDLX7205

Gramophone 2008

There’s plenty to enjoy in this attractive survey of early Frank Bridge, which is bookended by mightily impressive accounts of two of the three fastidiously integrated works that the composer entered for W W Cobbett’s prestigious annual chamber music competition. In truth, I can’t immediately recall a more persuasive realisation of the lovely 1907 Phantasie Trio – brain and heart are fully engaged. What’s more, in the glorious Phantasie Quartet of 1910 these stylish newcomers deserve a place at the top table next to such exalted predecessors as the Tunnell Trio with Bryan Hawkins (Lyrita) and Benjamin Britten with members of the Amadeus Quartet from the 1967
Aldeburgh Festival (Decca, 8/00 - nla). Not even a weird studio noise at 4’46” breaks the spell.

Elsewhere the programme allows each instrumentalist to shine: Kate Gould sparkles in the flirtatious Scherzo (1901), Benjamin Nabarro brings a beguiling warmth to the winsome Souvenir (1904) and Tom Dunn joins pianist Daniel Tong and baritone Ivan Ludlow for the Three Songs of 1906-1907. We get a further eight songs, all written before the First World War with the imploring “My pent-up tears”, intimate “Come to me in my dreams” and harmonically probing “Strew no more red roses” the stand-out items. Ludlow’s vibrato is prone to widen under pressure but he sings with belief and intelligence none the less and generates a tangible rapport with Tong (whose cultured pianism affords unqualified pleasure throughout). No quibbles, either, with Simon Eadon’s superior engineering nor Giles Easterbrook’s comprehensive annotation. In sum, a most recommendable mid-price package.’