Acies Quartett

Glenn Gould, Friedrich Gulda: The String Quartet

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Released in early 2020, this album by the Acies Quartett became a strong candidate for oddball item of the year. It contains string quartets by Glenn Gould and Friedrich Gulda, each written in the early 1950s, just before the two emerged as pianistic celebrities. Neither was noted as a composer; in fact, Gould designated his String Quartet as his Op. 1, but never completed an Op. 2. Furthermore, the styles of the two pieces are not what you would expect. Gould was already a Bach performer, and he championed serialism to a degree unusual in early 1950s North America. His String Quartet might be heard as drawing in a general way on these (it is relentlessly contrapuntal and rigorously structured), but in manner, it resembles no one so much as Beethoven, a composer Gould rarely played on the piano, and, it is widely thought, played poorly when he did. The opening movement, in particular, evokes that of the Beethoven String Quartet No. 14 in C sharp minor, Op. 131. It is more chromatic than Beethoven and has less of a strong tonal center, but it is an essentially Romantic work. Gould's quartet consists of four sections marked only by measure number, whereas Gulda's Music for String Quartet in F sharp minor is in three distinct movements and is more variegated. The work nevertheless has a neo-Romantic quality one would expect from a student of composer Joseph Marx, and there is no trace of Gulda's later interest in jazz. Can one spot the highly distinctive personalities of the two pianists in these student works? More so in the rather demanding quartet of Gould, but each will be of interest to fans of the respective artists.

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