The ongoing Auvidis Gerhard series has not yet reached the string quartets, so it is good to have this Metier release from the Kreutzer Quartet. It will be difficult to beat, with first-class playing and admirable recording, and at mid-price the short playing time should not be an issue. The two quartets offer complementary aspects of this exceptionally rewarding composer. In No.1 (1950-55) we hear the adept Schoenberg pupil, working on a large scale and bringing well established musical genres into the post-tonal world, although in the slow movement there are hints of the more progressive Gerhard who was waiting in the wings. In the finale, the scale is perhaps too large, and a certain sense of diffuseness can’t be wholly suppressed, but the impression from the work as a whole is of a composer confident at thinking on a ‘symphonic’ scale, and expert at creating productive tensions between traditional formal frameworks and a highly-wrought, contemporary musical discourse.
The Second Quartet (1960-62) is more radical, more concentrated, showing that dialogues between active and reflective musics could be made fresher and more appealing in the absence of those history-laden Schoenbergian backgrounds. Though he aspired to employing all-embracing compositional systems, Gerhard was never their prisoner, and the skill with which he uses repetition for dramatic effect in this work shows that he was far from rejecting all aspects of traditional musical rhetoric. It is a primary virtue of these performances that they project the vivid character of the music with such sensitivity. Very strongly recommended.