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String Quartets 1 & 2

Kreutzer Quartet
Metier MSV CD92032. 38 mins.

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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 CD92012 *****], 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 S&H October 1999] I have been pleased to learn that Metier may consider the four Pablo quartets for a future Kreutzer project.


Peter Grahame Woolf



Peter Grahame Woolf

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