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CD Review

Frank Bridge


  • When most I wink 1
  • If I could choose 4
  • The primrose 3
  • A dirge 2
  • The Devon maid 3
  • Dawn and evening 4
  • Where'er my bitter teardrops fall 3
  • E'en as a lovely flower 3
  • Blow, blow, thou winter wind 4
  • Go not, happy day 3
  • Night lies on the silent highways 4
  • A dead violet 4
  • Cradle song 1
  • Lean close thy cheek 3
  • Fair daffodils 1
  • Adoration 2
  • So perverse 4
  • Tears, idle tears 4
  • The violets blue 3
  • Come to me in my dreams 1
  • My pent-up tears oppress my brain 4
  • Music, when soft voices die 2,5
  • Far, far from each other 2,5
  • Where is it that our soul doth go 2,5
  • All things that we clasp and cherish 1
  • Love is a rose 1
  • Dear, when I look into thine eyes 4
  • Isobel 4
  • O that it were so! 2
  • Strew no more red roses 3
  • Where she lies asleep 2
  • Love went a-riding 1
  • Thy hand in mine 2
  • So early in the morning, O 1
  • Mantle of blue 2
  • The last invocation 2
  • When you are old and gray 4
  • Into her keeping 3
  • What shall I your true love tell? 2
  • 'Tis but a week 4
  • Day after day 1
  • Speak to me, my love! 1
  • Dweller in my deathless dreams 3
  • Goldenhair 1
  • Journey's end 3
1 Janice Watson, soprano
2 Louise Winter, mezzo-soprano
3 Jamie MacDougall, tenor
4 Gerald Finley, baritone
5 Roger Chase, viola
Roger Vignoles, piano

Hyperion CDD22071 2CDs
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Frank Bridge (1879-1941) is perhaps best known as the teacher of Benjamin Britten. His own music now tends to get insufficient attention. Small-scale tonal English song is sometimes seen by the uninitiated as either a minor genre or one whose time has gone, and which has little to offer. This can be either because the literary works set in the first half of the last century are usually in a style that has moved on perceptibly. Or it's because that particularly English skill of setting words to music practiced by the likes of Bridge, Gurney, Quilter, Ireland, Warlock, Parry, Stanford, Howells and even Holst and Elgar, seems either staid or stilted.

This splendid two-CD set from Hyperion was originally issued in 1997, on CDA67181/2. It should cause those who might pass the genre by to think again. Specialist pianist Roger Vignoles (and violist Roger Chase in a handful of songs) expertly and sensitively accompany soprano Janice Watson, mezzo Louise Winter, tenor Jamie MacDougall and baritone Gerald Finley in 45 wonderfully evocative, touching yet mature, nor oversentimental and penetrating songs by authors from Shakespeare to Joyce. There are songs by Heine and Tagore too.

To shake off primroses and banks of weeping willow listen to "Adoration" [CD.1 tr.16], a Keats setting, followed by an almost transatlantic "So Perverse" and the vibrant "So early in the morning, O:-" [CD.2. tr.10] to words by James Stephens; or the very last song on the set, "Journey's end", by Humbert Wolfe.

While no-one could claim that these songs are in any way avant garde in design or idiom, it's clear from this set of his own songs why Bridge was such a suitable mentor and inspiration for Britten. The former's music is to-the-point, unfussy, transparent and has a genuineness to it. It helps, too, that there is such variety in the choice of texts, and that three singers are taking part. Variety is also key.

The enthusiasm and latitude in interpretation is evident from first note to last. It's not that Watson, Winter or MacDougall have mistakenly felt that the style needs "updating" at all. Rather that the emotions innate in Bridge's writing are strong and clear enough to speak for themselves. Each pair (or trio) seems to be singing and playing the music as they presume Bridge intended it to be heard: with as much openness as art; never arch but always articulate; and communicative not coy or cute.

It's also to the credit of the designers of this recital that such a broad spectrum of subject matter has been chosen from Bridge's songs. They actually stretch from the very first ("When most I wink" [CD.1. tr.1]) to the last ("Journey's end" [CD.2 tr.21]) such works that the composer is known to have written. There is a preponderance of romantic songs and that subdued wistfulness blended courageously with an invitation to find the familiar in the poetic at which Britten was so expert. The singing of all three is excellent; articulation clear and supportive of both text and musical line. And the controlled oscillation between lightness and bathos exemplary. The same goes for Vignoles and Chase.

The acoustic (the Rosslyn Hill Chapel in Hampstead, London) on this collection of 95% of Bridge's published song output is everything it needs to be: crisp and clear, with the accompanying piano (and viola) adding a mellowness that unites the musical threads. The booklet has full texts and a commentary on each song. Even were these songs not virtually the only such collection in the current catalog, this CD would still be one to buy and enjoy. It's much more than a document with a truly historical value offering the listener music which could hardly ever be written today. It manages to project the substance of each and every song in such a way as to convey its immediacy and relevance to us. There is neither "quaintness" nor a feeling of a "medley of bygone delights". This is penetrating music, as excellently performed as it was passionately yet diligently conceived.

Copyright © 2014, Mark Sealey