The Strad Issue: January 2008
Musicians: ALEA Quartet, Berndt Luef (vibraphone)
Composer: Gerd Noack, Oliver Nelson, Berndt Luef, Iván Eröd, Gerhard Präsent, Hannes Kuegerl & Georg Arányi-Aschner

‘Klassik meets Jazz’ could as well be called ‘String Quartet meets Vibraphone’. The pieces involving Berndt Luef are of the easy-listening variety: two short works, At Nightfall and La Carretera, are attractive and elegantly played; his Sonntag in der Kleinstadt for violin and vibraphone has Sigrid Präsent enjoying herself in the soupy-vibrato-and-portamento mode of violinists everywhere presented with anything jazzy. The ALEA Quartet was founded by Präsent and her husband the composer Gerhard Präsent, and its repertoire features both Präsent’s music and that of the Hungarian-born Ivàn Eröd. Both appear here. Eröd’s solo-violin GeburtstagsPRÄSENT, played with assured simplicity by Sigrid, is followed by his Third String Quartet of 2003. This is a powerful and concentrated work, which the ALEA plays with tonal intensity and rhythmic vitality.

Gerhard Präsent’s own Canzona op.50 for violin and cello has a similar expressive economy. Here, cellist Christian Peyr joins Sigrid Präsent for a performance particularly notable for the plaintive dialogue of the beautiful third-movement Aria. The other violinist, Helen Kriegl, gets her moment in the sun with Hannes Kuegerl’s Variationen for violin solo, in which she demonstrates an impressive mastery of its multiple-stoppings, pizzicatos and special effects, which involve simultaneously whacking a drum. This, with Gerd Noack’s Sixth Quartet and Georg Arányi-Aschner’s Fifth Quartet (with optional vibraphone) is less musically gripping, but the ALEA does them more than justice. The recording is well-balanced, and the audience – this is a live concert – mostly behaves itself.  

Tim Homfray