REVIEW: Gerhard: String quartets nos.1 & 2, Chaconne for solo violin


The Strad issue



Serialism meets folk music in the works of a Spanish exile


Arditti Quartet



Born in Spain in 1896, Roberto Gerhard became Schoenberg’s only Spanish student, later fleeing his homeland at the start of the Civil War to settle in Cambridge and become a British citizen. His international background had a profound effect on his music, as the three works on this fine disc attest, combining a serious-minded Schoenbergian serialism with Spanish folk influences and a more forward-looking experimentalism that aligns him with the likes of Penderecki and Ligeti.

It’s a rich mix, but one that the Arditti players convey with admirable clarity and verve. They make a strong case for the energetic First Quartet, the most overtly Schoenbergian piece on the disc, in a lively, characterful performance full of perky wit. Harmonies are beautifully turned, phrasing is lithe, and the foursome has a natural feeling for the music’s ebb and flow.

They’re in their element in the Second Quartet, where the effects-laden textures reveal the influence of Gerhard’s experiments in electronic music. It’s a performance that balances cool objectivity with heated passion, and they negotiate the piece’s abrupt changes of direction and extreme contrasts magnificently.
Leader Irvine Arditti makes light work of the solo-violin Chaconne’s fearsome technical demands, while also providing a clear-headed route through its harmonic complexities.

Although a little echoey in the Chaconne, recorded sound is crisp and clear.