Bridge Quartet / Michael Dussek

Chamber Music by Frank Bridge

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British composer Frank Bridge was active and productive throughout much of his lifetime, yet many of his more youthful works are sometimes overlooked in favor of the later, more mature endeavors. This Somm album focuses on two such early works while also including some short compositions from the middle of Bridge's career. This nice assortment gives listeners the opportunity to hear how quickly and decisively Bridge matured in his compositional language. The earliest work for string quartet that Bridge was to acknowledge was the Three Novelletten, already a highly sophisticated, multi-layered composition. Following directly on the heels of the Novelletten was the Piano Quintet, which didn't arrive at its present, final version until 1912. These two works comprise the bulk of the album, but Somm also includes the haunting, intricate Rhapsody for 2 violins and viola, the Lament for 2 violas, Cherry Ripe, and Sir Roger de Coverley. As varied as the program is, so, too, is the quality of performance offered by the Bridge Quartet. Joined by pianist Michael Dussek for the piano quintet, the disc starts off on its weakest foot by far. In the quintet, the Bridge Quartet struggles mightily to settle on a center of pitch and to produce a consistently appealing sound quality. So poor is the intonation in spots that focusing on the music at hand becomes quite difficult for listeners. For his part, Dussek's performance is quite solid, but does not make up for his string companions. The Three Novelletten finds the quartet playing with slightly better intonation and markedly better sound quality, but still not entirely satisfactory in either category. It is not until the shorter components of the program begin that the Bridge Quartet really comes together. By that point, however, it's a case of too little, too late.

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