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String Quintet in E minor

'Bridge: Early Chamber Music' (CDA67426)
Bridge: Early Chamber Music
Movement 1: Allegro appassionato
Movement 2: Andante ma non troppo
Movement 3: Presto – L'istesso tempo – Presto da capo
Movement 4: Allegro molto

String Quintet in E minor
Stanford actively encouraged his students to hear the fruits of their labours. All four of Bridge’s student chamber works received student or professional performances, although he consigned them to his bottom drawer soon after. They remained unperformed for over one hundred years, but the three that survive – the B flat String Quartet (H3), a String Quintet in E minor (H7) and a Piano Quartet in C minor (H15) – are now being revived. Far from being simply student exercises, they reveal a young composer of growing confidence, assurance and resourcefulness. With the benefit of a century of hindsight, it is possible to regard the String Quintet in E minor as something of a milestone for Bridge. Composed between May and July 1901, it is in his favourite string key, it is full of contrast and colour, structurally well balanced and exhibits many individual touches. There is a Brahmsian influence in the way Bridge manipulates his themes (especially the minor third) and perhaps more of Dvorák in the easy flow of the melodic invention; there’s a hint of Elgar in the way the Andante begins; there’s something distinctly Russian in the energy and rhythmic bite of the scherzo; but the way Bridge uses pivotal notes and pedal points to move effortlessly from key to key is quite personal.

Each movement begins with short theme, which establishes its character, but which also maintain a ‘family’ likeness, at least in their interval content. The opening sounds like a call to attention – this is the main theme for the movement. No sooner stated, it is enveloped in an impassioned web of triplets and counter-subjects. There is a moment of respite when the violas present the second subject, which is a little tune rather than the more sustained lyrical passages Bridge would invent for his second subjects in the future. The development emerges tentatively out of the transparent coda that rounds off the repeated exposition. Similarly the recapitulation is ushered in quietly, without a dramatic gesture. Bridge, even at twenty-two, was not content with a literal reprise. He continues to alter the musical perspective, to change the emphasis and let the music evolve naturally.

The second movement begins simply, almost like a hymn. As it unfolds the harmonies become more intense and an elegiac tone emerges. The atmosphere darkens further in the central episode, which builds from a succession of falling phrases to climax on a long pedal note. Then, just as in the first movement, the opening music is further transformed on its reprise – the melody on the lower instruments, a counter-subject on the violins and sustained by much more elaborate harmonies. In later years Bridge might have described the scherzo as one of his ‘spasms’. The music rushes along in moto perpetuo fashion, including a succession of syncopations and a helter-skelter moment on the first violin. The trio contains perhaps the most characteristic passage in the piece. This is Bridge the miniaturist, the creator of music which his famous pupil Benjamin Britten would describe as ‘graceful, elegant and grateful to play’. The added-note chords and the gentle lilt of the music prefigures the style of the Three Idylls for string quartet (1906). The minor third that provided the motivic ‘engine room’ for the first movement propels the finale from the very start. The viola theme rushes upwards, in the opposite direction to its country cousin that started the Quintet so boldly. Bridge’s elegant drawing-room style returns in the second theme. Just before the final headlong dash to the end, Bridge cleverly contrives to bring back a veiled reference to the very opening of the Quintet.

from notes by Paul Hindmarsh © 2004

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Details for CDA67426 track 5
Allegro appassionato
Recording date
30 August 2003
Recording venue
St George's, Brandon Hill, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Andrew Keener
Recording engineer
Simon Eadon
Hyperion usage
  1. Bridge: Early Chamber Music (CDA67426)
    Disc 1 Track 5
    Release date: February 2004
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