WORKS: Three Poems; Three Pieces; Miniature Pastorals Set No. 3; Three Improvisations; Three Lyrics; A Dedication; Berceuse etc
PERFORMER: Mark Bebbington (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: Somm 0107
This concluding instalment in Mark Bebbington’s exemplary survey of Frank Bridge’s solo piano output lacks a single big unifying work, like the Sonata or the Dramatic Fantasia in the previous two volumes. But it spans the whole length of his keyboard-writing career from early light-music miniatures, such as the charming Pensée fugitive and Scherzettino written while he was still a pupil of Stanford at the Royal College of Music, to the radical late works from the 1920s. In these especially – as also in the Three Improvisations for left hand, written in 1918 for Douglas Fox, who had lost his right arm on the battlefields of Flanders – we can appreciate Bridge’s restless, questing imagination and his assimilation of continental influences. His last piece, Gargoyle, may remind us of Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit, just as the simmering toccata Hidden Fires recalls Scriabin’s Vers la flamme, and it’s clear throughout that Bridge was absorbing aspects of Debussy, yet the results are wholly personal.
Bebbington brings out the opalescent harmonies and wayward phrases of these pieces to perfection, and deftly characterises the various songsters in The Hedgerow. Perhaps the expressive high-points of the disc are the desolate Winter Pastoral of 1925 and the enigmatic A Dedication of the following year: Bridge at his most mystical and inward, very difficult to bring off, but performed here with rapt attentiveness and beauty of tone that reveals the expressive impact of these works. The recording is beautifully balanced, matching the sensitivity and sympathy of Bebbington’s playing. What a series this has been. Despite the real excellence of the competing cycles from Ashley Wass (Naxos) and Peter Jacobs (Continuum), this is ultimately the one to have. Calum MacDonald