AMN Reviews: Daedalus Quartet – George Perle String Quartets 2, 5 & 8 & Molto Adagio

Daedalus Quartet: George Perle String Quartets 2, 5 & 8 & Molto Adagio [Bridge 9398]

George Perle (1915-2009) was a composer known for developing a flexible twelve-tone method of composition that avoided the mechanistic constraints of serialism and fostered work that included expansive, often expressive harmonic relationships. Although he followed the serialist practice of composing with all twelve pitch classes, he used them in such a way as to create lyrical music that often suggested nearly-conventional key centers or modes. Thus, he described his music as “twelve-tone tonality,” or “twelve-tone modality.” With the exception of the explicitly tonal String Quartet No. 2 in D Minor of 1942—itself a highly chromatic work—the compositions on the present recording embody Perle’s highly personal version of twelve-tone music.

String Quartet No. 5, dating from 1960, is a three-movement work that alludes to sonata form. The first movement contains a recurring and varying motif centered on a descending line set to a steady quasi-andante tempo. The motif and its variations are voiced by the four instruments, most strikingly by the cello. Throughout, the piece is notable for its lyrical contour and rhythmic cohesion. The single-movement String Quartet No. 8 (1988), titled “Windows of Order,” is built up canon-like from brief motifs which serve as the starting point for the transparent counterpoint that follows. As with the fifth quartet, the eighth quartet puts all twelve pitch classes at the service of a music of great feeling as conveyed through an essentially melodic sensibility.

The hallmark of these works—including the early (1938) Molto Adagio—is their contrapuntal drive and clarity, which are brought into high relief by the Daedalus Quartet’s fine performances. Finely plotted counterpoint that conserves a sense of melody is a feature of much of Perle’s work, but here in the setting of the string quartet it’s made all the more dramatically apparent.

Very highly recommended.