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Bridge, Britten,

English Impressions

Mireille Jardon, violin
Lydia Jardon, piano


Franck Bridge


Benjamin Britten

Suite opus 6
Introduction - Marche
Moto perpetuo

Alan Rawsthorne

Sonata (Dedicated to Joseph Szigeti)
Adagio Allegro non troppo
Toccata (allegro di bravura)
Epilogue (adagio rapsodico)

Recorded at Théâtre de Poissy
November 2003

AR RE-SE 2003-6

English impressions

In the course of the history of English music, Frank Bridge(1879-1941) stands out as an unpretentious yet enthralling composer whose works one has to know how to “tame” in order to appreciate their full beauty. Born in Brighton, Bridge’s first introduction to music came from his violinist father. The violin was thus the logical basis for the musical education of a child who, and the fact is worth underlining, had very early exposure to the demands of group musicianship by playing in light music orchestras his father regularly conducted.

A traditional path for a talented young English musician, Bridge studied at the Royal College of Music from 1896 to 1903. Of the violin and the viola, he displayed a clear preference for the latter going on to become an accomplished performer! , but also studied piano. Moreover, his vocation as composer soon became apparent, and he gained solid experience in this field under Sir Charles Villiers Stanford.

His degree course at the Royal College completed, the artist’s existence was divided between composition and practical musicianship. The necessity for the young musician to earn his living explains in part why Bridge capitalised on his talents as an instrumentalist. And yet there is no doubt that he drew tremendous satisfaction from playing in different London orchestras and, even more so, regular “drawing room’ concerts. A keen string quartet enthusiast, Bridge worked with three orchestras as early as 1903, in particular the English String Quartet for whom he was violist until the early 1920s.

The musician’s curiosity also led him to orchestra conducting. Rehearsal director of the (then newly-formed) New Symphony Orchestra and of London’s Savoy Theatre Orchestra, Bridge learned a great deal in this domain. His “baton” gained a solid reputation, the consequence being that he sometimes acted as replacement conductor for Beecham at Covent Garden or Henry Wood during the Prom’s, and also enabled the composer to bring his own works to audiences in England and the United States (where he made a grand tour in 1923).

Symphonic music occupied a significant place in Bridge’s works, and creations such as The Sea suite (1911) received warm receptions. But it was in chamber music that the author found his most natural field for expression, the most suited to satisfy his mysterious and demanding nature... – as Britten would bear witness to!

In this domain, Bridge delivered his first outstanding creations in mid-1900, and the evolution of his language could be closely followed up until 1938.

The outbreak of the Great War marked a real turning-point in Bridge’s creative development, the spectacle of the butchery in human lives deeply affecting him and only confirming his pacifist convictions. This trauma, added to the regret at not having savoured the joys of paternity (1), contributed to a move from the lyrical and instantly accessible style of his early debut somewhat in the like of Gabriel Faure, as some said to a complex language tainted with bitterness. Under the influence of Scriabine and the Viennese composers, Bridge took greater and greater liberties in tonal applications: atonality, polytonality, bi-tonality are recurring terms when one studies his work of the early 1920s. “However, Harry Halbreich pertinently noted on this subject, the effect on the listener is more that of a prismatic refraction of the harmony, giving birth to highly complex aggregates.” Dedicated to the memory of a friend, Ernest Bristow Farrar, who died at the front lines, the vast Sonata for piano (1921-1924) provided the first illustration of this radical change of course. Completed at the cost of lengthy and absorbing work, this score was followed by a rapid return to chamber music, with the String Quartet no. 3 (1925-1927). This latter work opened up an inventive period which, following the Rhapsody Trio (1928) and the superb Trio no. 2 for piano (1929), led to the Sonata H. 183 for violin and piano in 1932.

In dedicating this work to Mrs. Elisabeth Sprague Coolige, the composer demonstrated his gratitude towards this rich American arts patron (2) he met in 1922, by offering her a gift of one of his finest creations. Witness to the remarkable maturity of the master, the Sonata H. 183 stands apart by its monolithic character, and links four episodes. With momentum and expression, an Allegro energico introduction leads into the Allegro molto moderato whose complexity of feeling is instantly asserted. Be it the energy or the tempo, the colour scheme first and foremost characterises the mysterious, carnal dialogue between the two instruments, in a progression of rare nobility. One bar of silence, and then the piano strikes up the Andante molto moderato second movement, soon joined by an interrogative violin. Be it in extreme sections, steeped in troubling grief, or a median part bursting with restrained fever, one can only be struck by a sense of balance that continuously relates lyricism with transparency. A sustained violin note and the Vivo e capriccioso surgit scherzo! Interchanging discourse and pure virtuosity are certainly appropriate in this movement, yet it is with a sentiment of bitterness, of unattainable joy, that one leaves it whilst a short lento transition leads to the Allegro molto moderato finale. An identical tempo to that of the preceding movement? Bridge indeed re-introduces here elements already employed at the début of the piece. They simply gain in dramatic intensity, and the success of this “reminiscent” movement is greatly responsible for the sonata’s overall coherence.

Frank Bridge and Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) reunited in one programme? Quite natural when one remembers the determining influence the former had on the future author of Peter Grimes, as much from the musical as the human point of view! Had he not been a conductor, Bridge would possibly never have become Britten’s teacher… In 1924, the latter had the opportunity to listen to Bridge conducting his symphonic suite, The Sea, at the Norwich Festival. The experience proved decisive for a young lad whose desire to devote himself to composition would henceforth increase with each new day! Through the intermediary of the violist Audrey Alston, Britten entered a relationship with Bridge, but a period of time went by before the lessons began since it was only in 1928 that an essential period in the young artist’s development opened up. Bridge had already taught violin and viola, but never as yet composition: his choice proved judicious to say the least!

An autodidact, Britten already had a few composition essays to his name, but still had a great deal to learn when he first started as Bridge’s pupil. Including suddenly finding himself subjected to extremely demanding work! Bridge’s teaching method gave the budding composer the impression of really being put to the test, but it enabled him to establish irreplaceable tools!

To achieve “an absolutely limpid similarity between what I had in my mind and what ended up on paper” is how Britten summarised the essence of a rigorous teaching method whose positive effects were not slow to reveal themselves since, as early as the summer of 1928, the Quatre Chansons françaises saw the light of day. 1930 marked the completion of Britten’s lessons with Bridge and his entrance to the Royal College of Music, whose academic atmosphere was of little appeal to the young man. The wonderful relationship with his first teacher was but a souvenir, and he didn’t much prize John Ireland’s teaching… All the same, Britten continued to improve his art: successes such as the Sinfonietta op. 1, the Phantasy Quartet op. 2 or the Simple Symphony op. 4 bear witness to this the latter, dated 1934, corresponding to the end of his studies at the Royal College. The name of the composer was soon circulating on the continent, and in March 1934, Britten had his Opus 2 performed in Florence. In April 1936, he was to be found at the keyboard in Barcelona in the company of the violinist Antonio Brosa for the performance of the Suite for violin and piano op. 6.

One cannot resist this youthful composition synonymous with verve, spirit and humour, sprinkled with delicious harmonic ambiguities! A brief Andante maestoso introduction precedes the first episode, March (Allegro maestoso), with its bouncy discourse and slightly mocking freshness. Moto perpetuo (Allegro molto e con fuoco) carries the listener away in a virtuoso breath, always punctuated with a note of surprise. With a violin con sordina, the third piece, Lullaby (Lento tranquillo), unfolds a lullaby with lunar tones, irresistible in tenderness and lyricism, before the closing part, Waltz (Vivace e rubato), repeats the allusions to dancing in three-four time in an elegantly parodical mode.

Afterward, the work of a 22-year old musician, the Sonata for violin and piano by Alan Rawsthorne(1905-1971) following in the footsteps of that of Bridge presents a clear realisation of the author’s immense maturity. Rawsthorne is among the least known figures in English music on this side of the Channel, and had an atypical career to say the last. After spending a long time trying to find his niche including initial studies in dentistry and architecture! Rawsthorne only seriously got down to studying music at the age of 19. But with such passion! 1925 thus marked his entrance to the Royal Manchester College of Music, where he was a pupil of the pianist Franck Merrick and the cellist Carl Fuchs. Very drawn to the piano, he travelled abroad to continue his studies with Egon Petri, a disciple of Ferruccio Busoni. During the 1930s, at the same time as working as a teacher, Rawsthorne began attracting attention as a composer. In 1938, his Theme and Variations for two violins earned him wide recognition, amplified the following year by his creation of the Symphonic Studies for orchestra and the Concerto for piano no 1. Generally speaking, the concertante domain suited the musician, as is attested to by the Concertos for violin no 1 (1948) and no.2 (1956) and the Concerto for piano no 2 commissioned by Clifford Curzon in 1951, immediately prior to making a recording with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Malcolm Sargent.

The interest shown by great performers in the work Rawsthorne produced was equivalent to a eulogy. Besides Curzon, John Ogdon commissioned him to compose the vast Ballade for piano and orchestra (1967) and ensured its first hearing. Gérard Gefen (3) summed up well Rawsthorne’s situation by noting that “whereas the composers of the British “avant garde” did not always manage to hide their attachments to tradition, the case of Alan Rawsthorne is exactly the opposite. Through the genres in which he chose to compose and the general principles of his writing, he is a member of the "classical tradition”. In harmonic terms, the composer was more disposed to ambiguity than to rupture, and his music radiates an especial colour. Added to whatever “outdatedness” his ties with the past may have labelled him with in the middle of the XXth century, this colour contributes to the very appealing nature of the works he produced, which offer many pleasant discoveries still awaiting you. Rawsthorne’s attraction to the orchestral universe did not however lead him to ignore chamber music. Besides three string quartets (1940, 1954 et 1965), he also composed a Quartet with clarinet (1948), a Quintet for piano and wind instruments (1963), a Sonata for cello and piano (1949), as well as several works for violin and piano. Among the latter, the Sonata, composed in 1959 and dedicated to Joseph Szigeti, undeniably predominates. In four parts, it starts with an Allegro non troppo, remarkable in its purity and modesty, which has the originality of being framed by a short Adagio section of an overtly dramatic nature. The second movement, Allegretto, with violin con sordina, evolves into an interrogative climate of tenderness and closes in pp morendo. In total contrast with the preceding movements, the Toccata (Allegro di bravura) strikes up a virtuoso, breathless discourse, while skilfully allowing itself moments of lyricism and astonishment before the Epilogue (Adagio rapsodico) closes the work with freedom, poetry and a dreamlike quality.

Alain Cochard

(1) Ether, whom he married in 1908, was unable to bear him a child.

(2) Bridge was indebted to her, among others, for his United States tour in 1923.

(3) Histoire de la Musique anglaise (Ed. Fayard).
[History of English music published by Fayard]

The Press covers it !

« Initiator and artistic director of the first "Encounters with Women Musicians" on the Isle of Ushuant (known as the "the island of women") in 2001, following her launch there in 1993 of a Summer Academy open to both professional and talented amateur musicians, Lydia Jardon is a passionate and actively-involved artist. She has even created her own record label AR RE-SE ("Those women" in Breton language). At the piano, too, she is awe-inspiring. We discover her strength of conviction with this disc recorded with Mireille Jardon on the violin (a member of the European Community Orchestra and who also performs with the Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra). Nothing is too off the beaten track for this duo, one suspects. Here, therefore, they tackle passages originating from across the Channel, with sonatas by Frank Bridge and Alan Rawsthorne, and a Suite by Benjamin Britten... played with pronounced conviction and fiery spirit. »

Dernières nouvelles d'Alsace, May 7th 2004

« Pianist Lydia Jardon has skilfully brought to light her serene virtuosity, notably thanks to the many discs she has recorded for her own label. With her less well-known sister, Mireille, she forms a piano/violin duet of high standard which caught our attention, above all through an original and very English programme. A Benjamin Britten suite with highly descriptive moods, a sonata by his master Frank Bridge marked by post-Romantic fervour, and another signed Alan Rawsthorne (1905-1971), [a composer] ignored on this side of the Channel but endowed with a most appealing classical and flavoured writing. In any event, by venturing off the beaten track, the Jardon sisters illustrate their perfect acclimatisation to British mists and plays of light and shade, with one deploying rousing fast passages with her bow, and the other a solid piano tapestry. To discover. »

La Croix, June 2004, Jean-Luc Macia

« This is a rare and unexpected programme for French performers. From the very first bars of the Bridge Sonata, listeners know that this is no wishy washy recording. Bridge composed his only Sonata for violin and piano in 1932, when his work was fully mature, after the Sonata for solo piano, which marked a turning point in his writing. This one-movement Sonata was daringly modern for the England of its time, and it is as fresh today as it was then. Dedicated to the great American patron Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, who commissioned several works from Bridge (and Stravinsky’s "Dumbarton Oaks” concerto), it asserts itself in a virtuoso style. Britten, a student of Bridge, composed his Suite in 1934-1935 in Vienna. Following the Sinfonietta Op. 1 and the Simple Symphony Op. 4, it provides a further demonstration of the young composer’s mastery of composition for stringed instruments. The varied atmospheres, with a nod to The Soldier’s Tale, perfectly express the young composer’s exuberance and confidence in his own talents. Alan Rawsthorne, the least well known of the three composers, tried his hand at almost all genres, except opera. Constructed in the classical style, his Violin Sonata (1959) is dedicated to Josef Szigeti. Its four movements illustrate the composer’s hallmark elegance. In perfect harmony, the Jardon sisters have produced an irresistible recording. The only negative point is the somewhat miserly length. A Delius sonata, or the Elgar or the Walton would have been a welcome addition.  »

Le Monde de la musique, April 2004, John Tyler Tuttle

« Are these sisters twins, or Siamese twins? You wonder, because of the way Mireille and Lydia Jardon seen to blend into a single musician. For this foray across the channel, turning their backs on the Vaughan Williams cow-pie pastoral style, they have chosen three difficult, allusive pieces in which the unformulated implications are as important as the text. Their clear and natural approach confers a transparency on these pieces that will make them obvious to even the most resistant listener. The Sonata by Bridge is one of the high points of his last modernist period. Its impressionist heritage is woven together with expressionist chromatic trends, The performers are able to reconcile these antagonistic threads, arriving at a purity of style and balance of construction that are ideally matched to the composer’s intentions. Lydia delivers the crystalline piano sonorities, muting the trebles with such restraint that it accentuates the mystery and poetic unreality. The Scherzo is a perilous, delirious moment of virtuoso, controlled, without suppressing the onirism. In contrast with the slightly outrageous expressionism of Lorraine McAsian and John Blakely (Continuum, 1991), the Jardon sisters adopt the classic approach. It is a different, and well-supported, concept of the refinement and elegance of Bridges’ latest work. On the lighter side, Britten’s Suite is overwhelmingly spirited, engaging and filled with sly wit. The delight of this sophisticated reading is found in incisive contrasts between the accelerations and the delicate tones. Rawthorne calls for more reserve: at least the perfect synchronisation does justice to the somewhat formal linear dialogue. In an intelligent break with routine, the sisters deliver brio, style and poetry that will win over the most stubborn enemies of Albion. »

Diapason, May 2004, Michel Fleury

« We have known Lydia Jardon for a long time as the remarkable pianist she has never ceased to be. She is now back with her own sister (a violonist) in a captivating, well-conceived and interpreted program, which felicitously combines the very rare Sonata for violin and piano by Bridge (1879-1941) and the Suite, Benjamin Britten’s (1913-1976) unrecognized and just as interesting opus 6, followed by Alan Rawsthorne’s (1905-1971) Sonata, dedicated to the great violonist Joseph Szigeti. The sound depth of the two interpreters, who always seem to be singing with one and only one voice – after all, they are sisters! –, the sometimes heart-rending depth of a playing that has a skin-deep expressiveness and makes no concessions, the elegant, perfectly shaped phrasings but also the considerable personal and emotional commitment of the two musicians all make this rare record an absolute reference in this field, one that should be known by all lovers of classical twentieth-century British music. Indeed, not many duos were able to express to such an extent the gripping emotions of, say, Bridge’s Sonata. Worlds away from the academical, utterly stiff coldness that too many chamber musicians feel obliged to adopt when facing such scores, which are much more emotional than is generally believed – perhaps because Bridge was an Englishman? –, the Jardon sisters go straight to the spirit and heart of these pages which they avidly and thoroughly explore. Moreover, the program’s consistency in bringing together three contemporary English composers who were different from each other but who shared a common sensitivity and used a comparable language only enhances the interest of this first-class record. »

Piano Magazine, March-April 2005, Robert Harmon