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Frank Bridge: Sonata and Selected Pieces for Piano / Pascal Sigrist

Bridge / Sigrist
Release Date: 10/08/2013 
Label:  Talent Records   Catalog #: 113   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Frank Bridge
Performer:  Pascal Sigrist
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



BRIDGE Piano Sonata. Three Poems. The Hour Glass. Three Lyrics. Gargoyle. In Autumn. Hidden Fires Pascal Sigrist (pn) TALENT 2911 113 (72: 58)


Frank Bridge’s large and fascinating Piano Sonata was written over a three-year span from 1921 to 1924, yet unlike some of his pricklier later works, this piece sounds strongly influenced by the French Impressionists—not only Ravel but also Koechelin—as well as by Scriabin. In certain respects the music’s evolution and development is Read more more “natural” and less shocking than in late Scriabin, but the similarity is certainly there.


Time and again in this Sonata, one is mesmerized by Bridge’s ability to draw truly lovely sonorities and even some nice melodic structures out of the music as it wends its way along. Indeed, I found the vacillation between rhythmic and harmonic invention and songfulness one of its most fascinating features, and the thing that makes it, to my mind, unique among piano sonatas from almost any era. As the three movements are interconnected, one realizes that one is listening to the Andante ben moderato only by the fact that the music does not vacillate between lyricism and agitate passages, and the final Allegro non troppo for the opposite reason. I was not at all familiar with the playing of pianist Sigrist before, nor with this Sonata, but simply judging both by other performances I’ve heard of Bridge’s music over the decades I would say that the pianist does an excellent job with this piece. Certainly, he understands its structure to the point where no detail is left unattended. Without italicizing the music, Sigrist manages to make everything flow naturally and impress itself on the mind in waves.


Indeed, I left it to the smaller works on this disc to judge Sigrist’s abilities as a musician, not because I was more familiar with them (I wasn’t), but because it is my experience both as a listener and as a former amateur pianist myself that smaller works are often the most difficult to make “work” in performance. This is especially true of such earlier pieces as the Three Poems (1913–14), The Hour Glass (1919–20), and the Three Lyrics, the latter composed independently of each other over a period of years (1921–24), albeit a simultaneous span to the Sonata. The liner notes by one Harry Halbreich make a fuss over the fact that the earlier works are ostensibly more Francophile than the Sonata, but this is not so. The melodic and harmonic language is very much the same, just directed into smaller forms. I noted in the Three Poems Bridge’s modus operandi , which seemed to be to work out different approaches to similar rhythmic patterns in differing tempos and keys: a quarter note on the first beat, followed by arpeggiated eighth notes on beats two and three, then a single note on beat four. What is amazing here is how varied the music sounds despite this similarity of rhythm, the second piece (“Ecstasy”) literally bursting at the seams with faster passages that erupt into flourishes and arpeggiated passages. In “Sunset,” the last of the three, Bridge throws in some of those Scriabin-like harmonies, more like sprinkles of salt and pepper on a meal rather than the meal itself.


The Hour Glass rather mixes the diatonic language of Debussy with the softly-sprinkled lyricism of Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante défunte, but again the composer is playing with the same rhythmic pattern as in the Three Poems and again breaks up the French harmony with bits of Scriabin, if less so. Here Sigrist is more challenged to invest interest into these pieces, yet he does so by means of extraordinarily varied touch on the keyboard, sometimes deep in the keys but almost as often producing a soft, almost muted tone quality by using the damper pedal. This quality is especially welcome in the second piece, “The Dew Fairy,” which could easily sound banal were it not for the exquisite echo effects he creates on the keyboard. “Midnight Tide,” with its progression of loud block chords, is rather more difficult to pull together.


The Three Lyrics contrast the gentle serenity of “Heart’s Ease,” the whirling scherzo “Dainty Rogue,” and the strange dissonances of “The Hedgerow” that is quite clearly late-period Bridge, the very period, in fact, that alienated him completely from British audiences of that era. Sigrist is able to delineate each piece in turn with its proper mood.


One of the few complaints I have of this CD is that the list of contents rather “hide” the extraordinary 1928 piece Gargoyles by including it in the list with the Three Lyrics and the 1926 Hidden Fires by listing it with the two pieces that make up In Autumn. It’s really not fair to either critics or lay listeners to list these pieces that way. Unless one reads the entire liner notes, which critics normally do but lay listeners do not, one would never know that these are independent works. As it turns out, however, the opening of Gargoyles sounds tonally related, at least, to “The Hedgerow,” and in fact I would have to say that in this piece—if the liner notes are an accurate description of the piece—pianist Sigrist here fails to make very much of the “grotesque” and “terrifying” devils in the music; it is a bit too emotionally placid for that, not forceful enough. Technically, his performance is superb, and maybe that is the problem. If the devils are so glib, how can they be terrifying? Yet it is a fine piece.


In Autumn consists of two pieces that also experiment with bitonality but in the first of these, “Retrospect,” in a largely major-mode and likeable way. “Through the Eaves,” on the other hand, evokes nothing autumnal in my experience unless they be the demons let loose on Halloween. Yet even these are outdone by Hidden Fires, a volatile piece very close in mood to Scriabin’s Vers la flamme, and this Sigrist plays very well indeed.


An excellent disc, then, and one recommended to Bridge collectors as well as to those who enjoy early 20th-century piano works of the Franco-Russian persuasion, filtered through another’s mind.


FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

1.
Sonata for Piano by Frank Bridge
Performer:  Pascal Sigrist (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1921-24; England 
2.
Poems (3) for Piano by Frank Bridge
Performer:  Pascal Sigrist (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: England 
3.
Lyrics (3) for Piano, H 161 by Frank Bridge
Performer:  Pascal Sigrist (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1921-1924; England 
4.
In Autumn by Frank Bridge
Performer:  Pascal Sigrist (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1924; England 
5.
Hour Glass, H 148 by Frank Bridge
Performer:  Pascal Sigrist (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: England 

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