String Quartets 1 & 2
CD92032. 38 mins.
Amazon UK Amazon USA
This CD aims to bring Roberto Gerhard's two quartets belatedly into
the accepted 20th C. string quartet canon, a worthy objective, cogently and
persuasively argued in Peter Sheppard Skaerved's impassioned essay in the
booklet. He is bewildered that, after the excitement engendered by Gerhard's
later music a decade and more ago, the impetus seems to have waned and these
quartets did not become as widely familiar as they merit.
Sheppard pinpoints the Spaniard and adoptive Englishman Roberto Gerhard,
whose later and most productive years were spent living in Cambridge, as
one of the first composers to integrate the extended techniques of string
playing as a central means of expression, rather than being just ornamental.
Those techniques are now required to master a wide range of today's quartet
music, and Sheppard derides the 'sizeable reactionary majority' who still
resist that need.
Julian White provides analyses of the two very different quartets. The first
(1950/55) employs 'permutational 12-note technique' in its 'quazi-sonata
form' first movement. The second is a scherzando with rapid contrasts,
and the third, an introspective grave, applies Gerhard's
'serially-controlled proportions' theory. The finale is propulsive with sustained
momentum. The work is in many respects ahead of its time; compelling, zestful
and easy to enjoy.
The second quartet (1960/62) is a single movement in seven clearly differentiated
sections, helpfully marked by the CD tracking. Gerhard explores percussive
string effects and textures which replace 'themes' and Sheppard finds them
to have a folk-like feel, reminiscent of features in Iberian music.
Not long ago, at an Arditti Quartet concert in a dry concert hall, I found
the second quartet rather arid and forbidding. Not at all so here, with
Sheppard's enthusiasm conveyed in a studio recording which has just the right
ambience to humanise the music. It is a very successful CD and, taken together
with the earlier Cantamen Trio recordings of the piano trio,
duos with piano and the violin chaconne [Metier MSV
we should be indebted to Metier for making available authoritative
performances of a wide range of Gerhard's music for smaller chamber groups.
One caveat: the two quartets take only 38 mins together, which is bound to
inhibit some purchasers.
That might have been a good opportunity to introduce another of Sheppard's
enthusiasms, one of the quartets by another Spanish composer of the older
generation, Luis de Pablo [see MotW
article on de Pablo by PGW
]. Gerhard and de Pablo shared a memorable concert, which
I attended at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw some years back - the two composers
of Iberian origins go together well. They were also both featured at last
year's Strasbourg Festival [covered by
October 1999] I have been pleased to learn that Metier may consider the four
Pablo quartets for a future Kreutzer project.
Peter Grahame Woolf