Glenn Gould & Heinrich Kaminski: String Quartets (CPO)
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You mean Glenn Gould, the composer? Well, he was always too big a personality to fit in a pair of pianist socks. In his teens, the Canadian genius tried his hand at various small scores, none of them satisfying his restless self.
The first composition to warrant an opus number was a half-hour string quartet, finished in 1955 when he was 23 and premiered the following year in Montreal. Gould, by now, was a soaring star and four members of the Cleveland Orchestra hastened to record the single-movement quartet for CBS Records, which forgot to promote it. Gould, in later years, admitted that he lacked a ‘personal voice’ as a composer. The string quartet is proof of that. There would never be a Gould opus 2.
So what are we to make of this revival by the Minguet Quartett on the eclectic German label CPO? Frankly, it’s a mess — but not an unattractive one. Gould opens with a growl of medieval groundbass, meanders into late Beethoven, swipes an indecent chunk of Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht before lolloping around Bruckner’s little-known F-major quartet to no obvious conclusion. He might have empathised with Bruckner, a thoughtful loner with ideas larger than the trends of his time.
After twenty minutes, Gould reverts to the 1920s sound world of Alban Berg and Richard Strauss and stays there until he is done. The quartet, by no means uninteresting, will make a lively dinner-party game of spot the composer.
The companion quartet on this album is by Heinrich Kaminski (1886-1946), a Roman Catholic mystic of Brucknerian ideals and a tonality midway between Strauss and Schoenberg. Banned by the Nazis for Jewish ancestry, his works have never regained favour. The F-major quartet, dated 1913, lacks — despite the Minguet’s best efforts — a cutting edge of traction.
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