WORKS: String Quartet No. 1; String Quartet No. 2; String Quartet No. 3; String Quartet No. 4
PERFORMER: Griller Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 475 6071
Musical fashions can be notoriously fickle. Fifty years ago Ernest Bloch’s five string quartets were regarded as among the major contributions to the 20th-century chamber music repertoire. Nowadays they are grievously neglected, rarely if ever appearing on concert programmes. Whether such a drastic reversal of fortunes is justified remains an interesting question. But with the long-awaited and excellently mastered reissue of the griller quartet’s mid-1950s Decca recordings of Quartets Nos 1-4, listeners will at least have the chance to judge for themselves. Having followed each quartet with the relevant score, I can certainly vouch for the outstanding and deeply committed quality of the playing. The Griller worked regularly with Bloch and the players are totally inside his idiom. Offering the widest possible range of dynamics and colour, they project its moments of violence and anger with the same intensity as they bring to its passages of lyricism, darkness and mystery. As for the music itself, the rambling First Quartet of 1916, which lasts well over an hour, may tax the patience of those that find Bloch’s rhapsodic vein somewhat indigestible. But the later works are much more concise, revealing a rather different and tougher perspective of the composer than the one that is familiar from his Jewish-inspired compositions. None is more impressive to my mind than the magnificent Second Quartet, which culminates in an epic finale of Bartók-like vehemence, incorporating a skilfully constructed passacaglia and fugue.