Ashley Wass

Bridge: Piano Music 1

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In the old music school game of "Name That Composer," this piano music disc would have stumped everyone. Go ahead -- start it anywhere and try to guess who it is. Is it Claude Debussy? Could be: the pellucid melodies and whole tone harmonies are the hallmarks of the French composer. Is it Alexander Scriabin? Could be: the rhapsodic forms and chromatic harmonies are the trademarks of the Russian composer. But while it could be Debussy or Scriabin, the composer is, in fact, Frank Bridge, the most cosmopolitan composer of the English revival of the early twentieth century. And although these works don't represent Bridge at his most characteristic -- try the slightly later sonata for that -- they do reveal a composer of astounding facility and astonishing sensitivity. Although one might guess that A Fairy Tale has enough warmth and whimsy to be by the composer of The Children's Corner, there is an undeniable Englishness in its cozy cadences and sepia-toned colors. And although one might guess that In Autumn has enough expressivity and sensuality to be by the composer of Vers la flamme, there is an indisputable Englishness in its restraint and decorum. It could be argued that pianist Ashley Wass, being himself from the Sceptred Isle, is responsible for the music's Englishness. But, beyond his superb technique, balanced tone, and natural feel for the idiom, Wass seems to be merely the medium through which the music passes and one never gets the sense that he is imposing his interpretations on Bridge's music. For fans of English music from the first half of the twentieth century, Bridge's piano music will be a treat. For everyone else, Bridge's piano music will be an unbeatable way to win at "Name That Composer." Naxos' sound is clear but a bit empty, clean but a tad vacant.

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