Not so long ago, Frank Bridge was known only as Benjamin Britten's teacher and the composer of the theme on which Britten's famous variations are based. Now he is recognised as one of the most important and original of English composers of the first half of the 20th century.
In his early maturity, before the First World War, his style was romantic and warm but the harrowing effect of the war and musical developments on the European continent led to a more dissonant style.
The first string quartet (1906) is a marvellous piece, teeming with strong and memorable tunes and imbued with a passion which brings Franck's solitary quartet to my mind. In contrast to the intensity of the others, the third movement is a graceful, lilting allegretto grazioso. The quartet ends with a brief reprise of the opening theme, recalling Franck's cyclical form.
The third quartet (1926) is worlds away in its musical language. The thematic material is motivic and chromatic and the harmonies are pared down. There is a lightness of texture. Yet the more one gets to know the work, the more the old Bridge is there, especially the lyricism. There is something of the twilight quality found in the haunting orchestral "There is a Willow grows aslant a Brook", which he wrote only a year later. It is not an easy work to grasp on superficial acquaintance but it stands among his late masterpieces like the Piano Sonata, Oration, and the 4th string quartet.
The Maginni Quartet have done much to promote this music both on disc and at concerts and play with commitment and verve . They seem to have it in their blood.