Bridge: String Quartet No. 1;String Quartet No. 3

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COMPOSERS: Bridge
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: String Quartet No. 1;String Quartet No. 3
PERFORMER: Maggini Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 8.557133
Is Frank Bridge doomed to remain a connoisseur’s composer – as Holst might have been had he not written The Planets? The music is beautifully, subtly wrought, the melodic appeal can be strong, but it’s introverted, often haunted, rarely direct. Bridge’s originality and power don’t usually leap out and hit you in the face, even when, as in the Third Quartet, the language is remarkably forward-looking. How many other British works from the Twenties reveal such allegiance with continental modernists like Berg and Bartók?

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On the face of it, the style of the First Quartet is more familiar – occasional echoes of Elgar, rather more of Fauré. But as with most of Fauré’s chamber music, this is not a world that opens itself up immediately. You have to go back and listen again, and often it will be a very small detail that seems to cast light on the nature of the whole. The Maggini Quartet has a very persuasive way with such telling details. The players don’t force the music to speak, but there’s nothing diffident about the expression, either. Technically these are polished performances, too, and well recorded. So why not risk it? After all, it isn’t only the easily accessible countries that are worth visiting. Stephen Johnson