Frank Bridge's first string quartet (1906), written in one month to meet the submission deadline for a music competition, is an inventive and appealing minor chamber masterpiece. Bridge, who studied violin and viola, wrote adeptly for strings - in my opinion, his chamber music is far and away his best work. The first quartet, twenty-nine minutes in this performance by the outstanding Maggini Quartet, holds your interest from the opening bars, is filled with good ideas, and is serious without ever being heavy. In short, an immensely rewarding piece of music.
The less accessible third quartet, which dates from considerably later in Bridge's career (1925-6), reflects a different aspect of the composer. Here lyricism has largely been replaced by agitation and dissonance; the Great War had had its effect as too had the atonal style of the Second Viennese School. While the Third is quite different than one might expect from the composer of the lovely (and substantial) Phantasie Quartet, I think it's overstatement to say, as one biographer did, that "From the end of the war to the end of the 1930s, Bridge gradually pitched into a world of night music, sour fanfares, Gehennas of the psyche, despairing dreams, bitterly grim marches and negation." In fact, I recommend listening to the third and fourth quartets without any preconceived notions or programs in mind. There's much to appreciate here.