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Em Marshall
Albion Magazine Online, September 2009

The disc opens with a wistful and rhapsodic performance of the gorgeous Phantasie Trio in C minor (Piano Trio no. 1). This is followed by the mysterious and whimsical Piano Trio No. 2 and the Nine Miniatures for Piano Trio, in which the performers (Jack Liebeck on violin, Ashley Wass on piano, and Alexander Chausian on cello) superbly bring out the changes of mood, from playful to serious.  Splendid!

Paul Ingram
Fanfare, July 2009

The half-hour Bridge Second Trio (1929) is one of the best things he ever wrote, some of the very strongest British chamber music of its time, along with Bridge’s own last two quartets. The opening is unforgettably bleak, and a ripe expressionist drama unfolds. It is not as “advanced” as the music Webern and Schoenberg were writing 20 years earlier, yet at the same time it almost prefigures Shostakovich. Sound here is very good, and the playing has great commitment, concentration, and fleetness of foot…The “Phantasie” Trio is much like the other Cobbett Prize-winning pieces by various composers, and it sounds faded to my ears, though these players give it everything. The Miniatures are slight character studies in late-19th century style, but they may be the disc’s main selling point for Bridge collectors…these Naxos players make a strong case for the Miniatures…The new disc is highly recommended to admirers of the composer—two different composers, really, early and late, as this CD vividly demonstrates.

Perry Tannenbaum
American Record Guide, July 2009

If you’ve never heard Frank Bridge’s compositions for piano trio, this is a handy collection. At the start of his career in 1907, Bridge entered his first trio in a competition established by Walter Wilson Cobbett, who fancied the “fantasy” form, stringing together varied sections in an extended piece. Although he took first prize, 50 pounds, and a London premiere, Bridge didn’t return to the form for more than 20 years, completing his Trio 2 in 1929.

The trio formed by Naxos to perform this repertoire acquits itself skillfully. Anyone following British pianist Ashley Wass as he surveys the solo compositions on the same label can expect his customary high level of craftsmanship, captured with admirable presence and fidelity. His explosions through the closing Allegro moderato crackle with electricity. But this finale is basically a recap of the opening allegro, and it is moderate to a fault if you compare it to the performance by the Dartington Trio, released in 1988 on Hyperion (66279, May/June 1989) and reprised on Helios (55063) in 2001. Wass’s violinist, Jack Liebeck, doesn’t spark when the pianist seeks to ignite the drama—the Dartington violinist, Oliver Butterworth, does.

The Naxos group doesn’t find the contrasts and depths that the Dartingtons explore— sometimes, one might argue, because the Hyperion contingent goes too far. Timings are consistently swifter for the tidier Naxos pair.

In Trio 2, a far more substantial and memorable piece, 31:57 on Naxos and 34:57 on Hyperion, there’s less to choose, largely because the delicacy of Wass’s chromaticism is so dominant and because Liebeck’s diffidence becomes a lachrymose asset. The fruitier sound of the piano on the Dartington release—and their superior coherence—make the first three movements far more interesting before the jubilation that bursts forth with the onset of the closing allegro, memorably rendered on both discs.

Andrew Achenbach
Gramophone, April 2009

Eloquent music-makingan essential acquisition for the Second Piano Trio

How encouraging to see Ashley Wass branching into Bridge’s chamber output—and with such gifted colleagues, too (violinist Jack Liebeck and cellist Alexander Chaushian are established solo artists in their own right). Back in August I heaped praise on the London Piano Trio’s account of the adorable, Cobbett Prize-winning Phantasie Trio from 1907 (“brain and heart are fully engaged”). Well, this Naxos newcomer is, if anything, an even more adroit and boldly characterised affair, if perhaps a mite less spontaneous-sounding than that Dutton rival. The three sets of Miniatures probably date from the following year and comprise nine exquisitely crafted and tuneful morsels originally intended for domestic use. They’re best dipped into rather than played at one stretch, but all are dispatched with sizzling panache and evident relish by these elegant performers.

Of course, the masterpiece here is the epic Second Piano Trio of 1929, one of Bridge’s most cogent, questing and durable utterances, whose radical language so bamboozled the largely conservative British critics of the period. Wass and company lend it exhilarating advocacy in a realisation of enviable security, unswerving concentration and burning conviction, making theirs for my money the first digital version to set alongside the Tunnell Trio’s classic 1976 performance (now happily restored on an unmissable Lyrita twofer, harnessed to the Allegri Quartet’s marvellous pioneering Argo recordings of the masterly Third and Fourth string quartets).

Tip-top production values from Andrew Walton and exemplary notes by Andrew Burn set the seal on an irresistible bargain.

John France
MusicWeb International, March 2009

W.W. Cobbett, at a lecture given at the Royal Academy of Music, wrote that “Mr. Bridge’s Trio is of a remarkable beauty and brilliance and stamps him as one of our foremost composers for the chamber.”  He concluded his comments by noting that this had a “…lavishness to which I can recall few precedents, he has provided thematic material more than sufficient for a lengthy work in sonata form.”

This above-mentioned Phantasy Trio was the winner of the 1907 Cobbett competition. The promoter had called for composers to write a “short Phantasy in the form of a piano trio.” Bridge secured a prize of £50 and a premiere performance, which took place on 27 April 1909 under the auspices of the London Piano Trio.

This Trio is written in the form of an arch—with the single movement ‘Phantasy’ form encompassing a sonata-style exposition and recapitulation alongside a slow section and an ‘allegro scherzoso’.  The programme notes give an excellent analysis of the work which the listener ought to peruse before listening to this piece. This is a ‘sunshine’ work that sparkles from the first bar to the last. There are serious moments in this piece, but typically it lacks any of the angst or despair that was to inform Frank Bridge’s post-war music.

I have always felt that the Piano Trio No.2 is not an easy work to approach. It would certainly not be on my list of pieces intended to introduce a newcomer to the music of Frank Bridge. Even for listeners who know Rosemary, Cherry Ripe and The Sea this music will appear difficult, disjointed and perhaps even distant. The Second Piano Trio inhabits a world far removed from the salon music and orchestral tone poems of the composer’s Edwardian period. Yet, many commentators insist that it is Bridge’s chamber music masterpiece: this is a view held by Anthony Payne the composer’s advocate and biographer.

I recently reviewed this piece on Lyrita and commented that although I felt that it is a great work (my head) I knew that I would rather listen to the earlier chamber works for “sheer indulgence and enjoyment” (my heart). Yet it imposes and impresses itself on the listener with repeated hearings: it is a piece that has to be worked at by the auditor. I felt at the time of the Lyrita review that this work was beginning to reveal some of its ‘secrets and beauties’ to me.  Perhaps this present recording has allowed additional elements of this complex piece to fall into place? One of the reasons I like the ‘early’ chamber work is the sheer ‘English’ quality of much of the writing—not in any ‘cow-and-gate’ sense of the word but in feeling and emotion. However there is nothing parochial about the work: it is European and owes much to contemporary developments on the Continent—especially the Second Viennese School of Berg and Schoenberg. Nevertheless, Bridge has not used any particular formula to write this work—he has breathed his own ideas into a certain prevalent sound-world intimations of which were blowing across the English Channel. In so far as this was the case he created something both convincing and impressive.

As far as I can divine there is no other currently available complete recording of the Nine Miniatures for Trio. These short pieces are not fundamental to the canon of works by Frank Bridge. Yet in many ways they offer an entertaining introduction to his lighter works, and more importantly, his chamber music. They were originally composed for one of the composer’s violin pupils, a certain Betty Hanbury and for her sister Helen who was a cellist.  And finally another sister, Patricia, made it a family affair.

Each ‘group’ has three contrasting movements which explore a wide range of musical activity—from a March militaire to an attractive Romance.  These are not necessarily easy works to play, but are well-crafted and grateful to young and amateur musicians. Bridge does not write ‘down’ to his potential performers: these are not patronising. In fact each of them is often quite beautiful, invariably interesting to play and enjoyable to hear. Professor Renz Oplis has written in The Chamber Music Journal that the “Miniatures … ought not to be dismissed as inconsequential student works suitable for neither amateur nor professional. On the contrary, any one of these tonally diverse and brilliantly written cameos would serve as a superb encore for a professional piano trio while amateurs will spend many a happy hour with these delightful works." And finally, these short works should be listened to individually and not as a group of ‘nine’.

I am totally impressed by the quality of the playing on this disc. Ashley Wass has recently established himself as one of the ‘Bridge’ aficionados… along with Mark Bebbington and Peter Jacobs. The sound is perfect which allows the listener the opportunity to hear these works in the best possible environment.

Mike D. Brownell, March 2009

Often lost in the shadow of his wildly successful student Benjamin Britten, the works of Frank Bridge are still continuing to earn the respect they so deserve. The English composer had three main style periods, ranging from deeply Romantic to nearly avant-garde. This Naxos album of Bridge’s works for piano trio represents two of these style periods. The Phantasie Trio in C minor (Trio No. 1) opens the program and is a beautiful example of Bridge’s neo-Romantic writing, complete with soaring melodies, often lush harmonies, and moments of genuine tenderness. Also from this period, but much less broad in scope, is his Nine Miniatures for Piano Trio, a set of short pieces intended as student works focusing on various techniques but no less charming than his more “serious” compositions. In the middle of these two early works is the Piano Trio No. 2, which comes from Bridge’s second compositional period. Filled with chromaticism and dissonance, this trio was harshly criticized in Bridge’s lifetime for being too heavy on technical challenges and too light on musical satisfaction. Performing these works are violinist Jack Liebeck, cellist Alexander Chaushian, and pianist Ashley Wass…recordings of these trios are difficult to come by, and chamber music fans unfamiliar with them will no doubt jump at the opportunity to add them to their collections.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, February 2009

It may be early to describe Ashley Wass as the generation’s most perceptive exponent of British piano music, but time and again his recordings are nothing short of remarkable. His universally acclaimed series of the piano works of Frank Bridge [See Ashley Wass’s biography page for details – Ed] is now extended into the composer’s chamber music. The Phantasie Trio first brought Bridge to public notice, its one movement format winning the influential Cobbett Prize in 1907 when the composer was 28. Formed in a single arched span, it is in four sections, the robust and outgoing outer sections circling around an andante as radiant as anything of its time. Later to be described as the First Piano Trio, there was a gap of twenty-two years between that and the Second Piano Trio by which time the First World War that would change it forever. Though Bridge was to remain a tonal composer, the trio linked the most attractive elements of atonality, its two pairs of interlinked movements often with a dark shadow cast over them. Often of translucent delicacy, the sadness of war seems to have invaded the slow movement. The disc is completed by the three sets of Miniatures for Piano Trio, thoughthey are neither miniature in length nor import, but contain much that makes for joyful listening. The disc brings Wass together with outstanding British musicians, the violinist, Jack Liebeck, and cellist, Alexander Chaushian. They are in the true sense a ‘dream team’, contrasting and complementing each other to perfection, the string intonation right in the centre of every note, with the required sensitivity realised in playing of the utmost refinement. That Liebeck plays a musically priceless 1785 Guadagnini violin only adds to the sheer beauty of their combined tone. The fine recording quality completes my fervent recommendation.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group