British Early Modern composer Frank Bridge [1879–1941] wrote four string quartets. They are distinguished by a marked stylistic progression from the First, written in 1906, to the vastly more modern Fourth, in 1937.
The Fourth Quartet commences in a robust fashion, with slightly dissonant melodies overlapping to bring about a mildly chaotic mood. A prominent cello line leads the music into a serene space and the violins are measured. Slowly they develop into another dissonant, but pleasing section, before they reach out and the level of intensity increases. Now a sparser mood prevails and the violins duet with short melodic phrases, leading to a sense of forward movement. The intensity rises again and the violins duel – this is a world away from the pastoral nature of the First Quartet, and displays traits of modernism. The duel persists with a turgid tone for a time before peace is restored, an alluring dialogue softening the sound. Nearing the end, a sense of drama unfolds as the cello leads into a hearty passage. Finally we have a reconciliation of all instruments and the violins ever so quietly move to a conclusion.
A probing, questioning violin opens the next movement, soon to be joined by a second violin and viola pizzicato thrusts – the energy rises and falls, seemingly not being able to settle. There is very little melodic development and no melodies to capture the listener’s attention, just a serious, dissonant soundscape. The music drops in and out of a tempo as the violins compete for melodic prominence; there is an underlying tension here. A gentler mood now prevails and a mild flurry of violins makes for an abstract sound. A lilting violin passage brings the movement to a measured end.
The final movement opening is dominated by a majestic violin phrase, which soon recedes, all the while being accompanied by the ensemble in a subtle manner. A tempo begins to form and the texture is similar to that of elements of the previous movement. There is a lot of musical energy generated, and a good deal of abstraction can be heard here. Dissonant violin lines begin to swirl, making for a mysterious sounds. The violins push hard and the intensity is high. A rhythmic cello underpins the violins’ musings and the tempo begins to pick up. The work finishes on a violin flourish and a held chord.
The complete quartets can be found on two Naxos CDs, performed by the Maggini Quartet. There are also several other CDs on Amazon US and UK containing various individual and paired quartets.
Listenability: A slightly chaotic, but approachable, early twentieth century quartet.