Frank Bridge Song Focus

Bridge’s compositional career divided into two distinct parts: initially
influenced by the expressive romanticism of FaurÈ and Brahms, in the mid-1920s
he embraced the radicalism of the Second Viennese School – evidence of both
his openness to new European musical developments and possibly of a loss of
faith in the lyrical idiom of the past following the First World War.

Bridge songs, of which there are more than fifty, belong to the earlier
period, two thirds being written before 1907; as evidenced in this charming and
thoughtfully planned programme – the first of two recitals forming a ‘Frank
Bridge Song Focus’ at the Wigmore Hall – the songs are affecting, memorable
and varied in form and scope, revealing a sensitive if not overly demonstrative
or dramatic approach to world-setting.

Pianist Iain Burnside, the curator of the two concerts, devised a wonderful
programme, assembling Bridge’s songs into poetic groupings and interposing
songs by other, predominantly British composers. The sequences unfolded
organically, with seldom a break between songs, soprano Ailish Tynan and tenor
Robert Murray moving in understated fashion, to the centre of the platform in
turn – or even performing, seated, from the side. The effect was to create a
coherent, natural progression, foregrounding the songs and their sentiments,
revealing links, developing evolving narratives.

We began with poetry of the ‘English Romantics’, the rapid cascading
accompaniment of ‘Go not, happy day’ (Tennyson) launching the
poet-speaker’s mood of relaxed, joyful ebullience as he rejoices in his love,
which suffuses the whole world with a rosy radiance. Robert Murray pinpointed
the simple sentiment with clarity and immediacy; similarly, ‘The Devon
maid’ (Keats), delivered from the side of the platform, possessed a gentle
wit, a slight rallentando, “And we will sign in the daisy’s eye/ And kiss
on the grass green pillow”, suggesting the singer’s bliss! Here, and
throughout the evening, Murray’s diction was superb.

Ailish Tynan found a radiant tone for the poet-speaker’s declaration of
love at the close of “Adoration” (Keats), in which Burnside’s subtly
emphasised appoggiaturas delicately punctuated the still, quiet ambience. In
Charles Parry’s ‘Bright Star’ and ‘La Belle dame sans merci’, Tynan
painted the text beautifully, finding rhetorical force, “her eyes were
wild”, and pathos in recalling the haggard knight-at-arms, “so
woe-begone”. From the unison, folk-like beginning of the latter, the urgency
of the narrative grew with the increasing tempo and complexity of texture, the
piano both anticipating and echoing voice with haunting melancholy.

Murray opened the Heine sequence with ‘E’en as a lovely flower’,
floating the opening line and finding a stirring change of colour to match the
surprising harmonic shift as “sadness/ Comes stealing over my heart”,
before closing in ethereal vein, with a vision of the loved one, “So lovely,
pure and fair”. In contrast, ‘Whenever I hear the strain’ by Maude
ValÈrie White, whirled with a wild energy, Murray injecting a disturbing,
hostile resentment into the final lines, “Love tortures my heart and brain/
With many a bitter pang”. In the oft-set ‘Ich grolle nicht’, Murray drew
on weighty, darker hues, while in the final short lyric, ‘All things that we
clasp’, Tynan perfectly captured the ambiguity of the text.

Three Bridge settings of the little known Mary Coleridge formed ‘The
Female Muse’. Burnside summoned an insouciant rhythmic lilt in ‘Thy hand in
mine’, in which Tynan and Murray shared the stanzas, enhancing the symmetry
of the lines, “They hand in mine … Thy heart in mine”. ‘Where she lies
asleep’ is beautifully crafted and compelling, and Murray’s sweet
pianissimo lured the listener into the intimate portrait of one who “sleeps
so lightly”, before Burnside’s extrovert, declamatory accompaniment and the
theatrical interchange between the singers in the subsequent ‘Love went
a-riding’ brought the first half of the recital to a dramatic close.

We travelled to Ireland after the interval, and Tynan relished the rich
resonances of ‘Goldenhair’ and the folky rubato of ‘So early in the
morning’, the latter building through each verse to an exclamation of bright
joy, before cadencing insouciantly. Murray used his head voice effective in
‘Mantle of blue’, the sparse texture and delicately sustained vocal line
conjuring a lullaby-like luminosity.

The final sequence, ‘The Last Invocation’, rose to fresh expressive
heights – perhaps ironically, for here the folksong settings of Benjamin
Britten threatened to outshine the songs of his revered teacher, Bridge. Tynan
was absolutely at home in the role of balladeer in ‘The trees they grow so
high’, seated beside Burnside and spinning an effortless melody, poignantly
telling of love and life and death. The complexity of Britten’s ‘The last
rose of summer’ – a shimmering accompaniment ripple transforming into an
alert, off-beat triplet, as the high melodic melisma gains rhythmic urgency and
direction – reveals an imaginative, idiosyncratic approach to text setting
which is absent from the more conventional Bridge settings. But, Murray and
Burnside brought vigour and realism to Bridge’s ‘’Tis but a week’, with
its trampling horses and gay blackbirds, tinged with the sadness of loss and
times past. Similarly, the word-painting and imitative motifs of ‘Blow out,
you bugles’ intensify the more abstract emotions of the latter part of Rupert
Brooke’s sonnet, where Murray conveyed reverence, anguish and finally
passionate sincerity.

Tynan’s tender rendition of the final song, Bridge’s ‘The last
invocation’, indubitably confirmed the composer’s haunting imagination.

Claire Seymour


English Romantics

Bridge: Go not happy day; Adoration
Parry: Bright Star
Bridge: The Devon Maid
Stanford: La Belle Dame sans merci


Bridge: E’en as a lovely flower
Ives: Ich grolle nicht
Bridge: The Violets Blue
White: Hˆr’ ich das Liedchen klingen
Bridge: All things that we clasp

The Female Muse

Mary Coleridge: Thy hand in mine; Where she lies asleep; Love went

The Orange And The Green

Bridge: Golden Hair; Mantle of blue; So early in the morning; When you are

The Last Invocation

Britten: The trees they grow so high
Bridge: What shall I your true love tell?; ’Tis but a week
Britten: The last rose of summer
Bridge: Into her keeping; Blow out you bugles; The last invocation

Ailish Tynan, soprano; Robert Murray, tenor; Iain Burnside, piano. Wigmore
Hall, London, Wednesday, 26th September 2012.

image_description=Frank Bridge
product_title=Frank Bridge Song Focus
product_by=A review by Claire Seymour
product_id=Above: Frank Bridge