Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Raphael Terroni and the Bingham String Quartet play their hearts out in wonderful performances of Frank Bridge and Cyril Scott on a release from the British Music Society.

1879 was a good year for British music with the births of Frank Bridge, Hamilton Harty, John Ireland and Cyril Scott.

Frank Bridge (1879-1941) was for a long time better known as the teacher of Benjamin Britten. In more recent times his reputation has been re-established as a composer of some stature. Born in Brighton, he studied at the Royal College of Music under Charles Villiers Stanford and, later was violist in the English String Quartet. As a conductor he deputised for Henry Wood but later devoted himself mainly to composition.

His numbered works total some 192 and include many orchestral works, choral works, songs, piano works and chamber works that formed a major part of his output. His early works followed the romantic tradition but, after the First World War, his compositions looked more to Europe and, in particular the Second Viennese School. Thus his orchestral work The Sea (1911) was in his earlier style and his Oration for Cello and Orchestra (1930) was in his more progressive, tougher style.

Cyril Meir Scott (1879-1970) was born in Oxton, Cheshire and showed a talent for music from an early age. He was sent to the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt, Germany to study piano in 1892 at age twelve and his first symphony was performed when he was just twenty years old.

From the 1930s interest in Scott’s music declined but, despite the indifference of the musical world to his work, he continued to compose up until end of his life, dying at the age of 91. In recent years there has been a revival of interest in his work mainly through recordings.

A prolific composer, Scott wrote some four hundred works including four symphonies, three operas, two piano concertos, four oratorios, concertos for violin, cello, oboe and harpsichord, several overtures, tone poems, a large number of songs and many chamber works. Strongly influenced by impressionism and admired by composers as diverse as Claude Debussy, Richard Strauss, Igor Stravinsky and his friend Percy Grainger, he was described by Eugene Goossens as ‘the father of modern British music’. In addition to poetry, he wrote many books and pamphlets on occultism and alternative medicine.

BMS (British Music Society) has just re-released a recording of Piano Quintets by Frank Bridge and Cyril Scott played by Raphael Terroni and the Bingham String Quartet.

The pianist, teacher, festival organiser and former chairman of the British Music Society, Raphael Terroni, died on 31st August 2012, aged only 66. He studied with John Vallier and Cyril Smith and gave concerts both at home and abroad, appearing at major festivals as a soloist, accompanist and chamber-music player. He has made several recordings including music by Lennox Berkeley, Arthur Butterworth and Arnold Cooke, receiving much critical acclaim. His most recent release of piano music and songs by Robin Milford on Toccata Classics  was Editor’s Choice in Gramophone magazine
Frank Bridge’s Piano Quintet H.49a (1904-1912) was drawn from his four movement Piano Quintet H.49 of 1904/05. From the rich string opening and subsequent piano entry, the opening movement, marked adagio – allegro moderato, sounds very stormy, in this taut performance, full of vigour. Later the music quietens to a gentler, less concentrated section with some lovely ethereal string sounds but it soon builds back to stormier music.  Thereafter the stormier music alternates with the quieter theme, with some lovely piano contributions. Subsequently it builds again to passionate rather than stormy music. As it quietens again there is a lovely short solo piano passage before the music again gains in passion only to end on a quiet, more relaxed note.

The second movement, adagio ma non troppo – allegro con brio – adagio ma non troppo opens with beautiful theme, full of tranquillity, on the strings. The piano enters with the strings giving occasional accompaniment. The strings soon provide a greater contribution before taking the theme whilst the piano accompanies. A lovely ascending motif precedes the scherzo – allegro con brio section. With the scherzo the players provide an infectious rhythmic bounce. This leads eventually to a lovely cello passage with piano as the adagio returns. Slowly the strings all enter to bring further warmth and richness in a lovely theme, leading to a hushed coda. There is much persuasive playing here.

The strings, echoed by the piano, open in a confident allegro energico. After a while, as the music falls back, Bridge perhaps loses his momentum a little but he soon varies the theme to provide some attractive music. Terroni and the Binghams give their utmost producing tautly sensitive playing. Structurally this is the most interesting movement and, when the opening theme returns, there is much power and breadth. Overall this is a lovely work, full of interest and wonderfully played. Terroni and the Binghams make for a formidable team with playing that is alert, dynamic and sensitive in equal measure.

Cyril Scott’s Piano Quintet No.1 (1920), which won a 1924 Carnegie Trust Award, is in four movements. The andante con esaltazione opens with a gently flowing theme with little string flourishes that add decoration to the music. A more energetic solo piano passage leads to a somewhat nostalgic string section. As the piano joins, the music moves forward in a more passionate section that nevertheless seems to meander a little. However the music grows faster with the strings bringing a more confident feel with firm piano chords. As the music drops to a quieter, more thoughtful section, Terroni and the Binghams manage to hold this somewhat loosely constructed music together brilliantly in playing that extracts every drop of emotion and feeling. Eventually the music builds to a vigorous climax with playing of great integration, ensemble and concentration. The strings fade until the opening theme returns, leading to a wistful passage as the work draws to a close.

A gentle allegro grazioso ma non troppo starts with a little upward flourish on the piano before strings hover around the theme in a rather pastoral sound before settling to a steadier pace. There is a central dance like section leading to the opening theme before a piano flourish brings an end.

The strings open a passionate adagio con gran espressione, an extended passage full of glissando phrases, before the piano enters as the music continues the theme in a more settled fashion. The strings again repeat their glissando phrases alone before the piano joins and the music settles again. There is a short solo piano passage, a lovely free flowing tune taken up by the strings that sounds very Ravelian. Again the music settles before the return of glissando strings that lead to a climax full of ardour with bold piano chords leading straight into the last movement. Terroni and the Binghams are fabulous in this movement.

The Finale: Allegro con molto spirito opens with a fast flowing theme full of an outdoors feel. After a section for solo piano, there follows a wistful string passage before the music returns to the earlier fast flowing theme, full of movement leading to more meditative section. The piano suddenly perks up the tempo as the strings enter to blow away any meditation as the brisk opening theme reappears, flowing and weaving around the piano leading to a decisive coda.

Scott had the ability to use lots of little devices to lift even the most ordinary passage. Raphael Terroni and the Bingham String Quartet play their hearts out in these wonderful performances.

The recording, made in the Church of St Silas the Martyr, Chalk Farm, London in 1989, is a digital restoration of the master. The recording is very good though the sound is slightly close. There are excellent notes by Giles Easterbrook.

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