The Strad issue
Tippett Quartet, Ashley Wass (piano)
Bax’s Piano Quintet (1914–15) emerges from the same Celtic mists as his most famous tone poems. It makes for a heady concoction, one that Ashley Wass and the players of the Tippett Quartet exploit to the full. Theirs is a more forward account than the rival recording from David Owen Norris and the Mistry Quartet on Chandos, and I prefer its greater clarity of texture with no loss of atmosphere. Compare, for example, the brightness of the Tippett’s pizzicato at the start of the middle movement to the more diffuse sound of the Mistry and the almost delirious headiness of the finale’s intoxicating dance in the new recording to the older one’s limpid if not limper approach. In just a handful of instances, this greater openness of sound exposes the odd raggedness and insecurity of string line, but not enough to detract from the music-making as a whole.
Where Bax headed west for inspiration, his contemporary Frank Bridge looked south to the music of Fauré. His early Piano Quintet (1904–12) shares the French composer’s Romantic urgency and is quite unlike the sparer, more Bergian sound world he conjured up later in life. Wass and the Tippett players give it their all: I defy anyone not to be swept up in the ardour of these performers’ account of the slow movement, but be warned: the music’s remarkable presentiment of Glenn Miller’s Moonlight Serenade once recognised just won’t go away.