Frank Bridge Songs and Chamber Music, Dutton Epoch CDLX7205

International Record Review 2008

The variety of instrumental and vocal forces for which Frank Bridge wrote means that any number of imaginatively compiled recitals is possible. This new release amply demonstrates the expressive range from which the composer was able to draw from the well-defined limits of his first full decade of creativity: at its centre, Three
Songs With Viola (1907) are a delightful follow-up to a sub-genre pioneered by Brahms: The pensive melancholy of Matthew Arnold’s ‘Far, far from each other’ is followed by the passionate enquiry of Heine’s ‘Where is it that our soul doth go?’, then the serene resignation of Shelley’s ‘Music, when soft voices die’. Viola and piano deftly intertwine without ever impeding each other, and this compact song- cycle deserves more frequent revival. Moreover, its inward depth is thrown into ample relief by the miniatures on either side: Scherzo, rendered characterfully by Kate Gould, and Souvenir, winsomely dispatched by Benjamin Nabarro. On either side of these is a group of four songs. While there can be little doubt as to their intrinsic quality, their unrelieved seriousness gives a rather one-sided impression of Bridge’s song-writing for all that Ivan Ludlow’s earnest delivery is finely attuned to the fervency of Come to me in my dreams (1907), the ethereal calm of Dawn and Evening (1903), the serenity of Night lies on the silent highways and the fatalism of A dead violet (both 1904). This uniformity at least helps underline the sheer variety of the two Phantasies that frame the disc, both of them entries in the annual Cobbett competitions that did so much to foster interest in chamber music by British composers of the period. If the Phantasie Piano Trio (1907) is both more diverse in content and more dramatic in emotional contrasts, the Phantasie Piano Quartet (1910) is tauter and more finely integrated, its motivic material transformed, indeed transcended, in a coda whose opening onto a new expressive plane anticipates the chamber masterpieces of Bridge’s full maturity.

..The quality of playing and recording here, not to mention Giles Easterbrook’s informative booklet note, is such that this disc deserves an enthusiastic recommendation.’