HUGO KAUDER – Two Early Quartets

Austrian Early Modern composer Hugo Kauder [1888–1972] wrote 19 string quartets – unfortunately, only the first four have been recorded. According to Wikipedia, ‘Kauder defied the atonal trend of his generation with his uniquely harmonic, contrapuntal style’. I believe this will become obvious as there are many wonderful melodic lines, and canons and fugues scattered throughout these works. I intend to discuss the Third and Fourth Quartets.

The Third Quartet, in two movements, begins with a brief fugue of great strength. The tempo is slow and the fugue gives way to a section of gentle cello and violin before regathering momentum and positively exploding into life for a time. A brief pause leads to another fugal section, this time less dynamic than the opening. It is however still rich in texture as the fugue gives way to a crescendo which gradually decreases to a peaceful ending of one violin tone.

A solo cello statement introduces the final movement. This extended passage is only occasionally complemented by other voices. Finally the ensemble make their entry and the mood is alluring. A pause has the solo cello again, but only for a few bars before the ensemble returns and there is much interplay between the cello and the violins. A stately, lamenting passage ensues but it is brief. There appear to be many mood changes within this movement and the dynamics are constantly varied, producing a rather unusual texture. The folk-like is quickly transformed into the intensely harmonised but, again this doesn’t last. Now a lone violin with a slightly ambivalent emotional feeling is heard, with some sparse accompaniment from the second violin. The harmony returns, and beautiful it is – just so precious. Totally contrasting is the energised section which follows – it seems to be one of the composer’s trademark techniques. This in turn gives way to a simple dancing mood which is gradually developed in content and intensity, leading to an extended final flourish.

The Fourth Quartet is in five movements and opens with two bars of pizzicato which introduce a marvellous melodic violin, with wonderful harmonies in support. The violin turns slightly introspective and another few bars of pizzicato are heard. Now the solo violin muses gently, leading to a strange sense of the Romantic combined with the Modern. The extended ending is more of the pizzicato supporting a delicate violin, which fades to a conclusion.

The next movement has a solo violin statement which turns out to be the beginning of a fugue as the ensemble make their suspended entries. As usual I am quickly lost in the fugue subject and just enjoy the profound beauty of the ebbing melodic voices. A brief pause near the end leads to a charming passage for two measured violins – this is a beautiful moment.

The third movement is quite brief, but provides the most energised music heard so far. The ensemble is very strong here as the violins show the way with dancing melodic lines.

A lamenting violin leads the ensemble into the fourth movement. Now the cello comes into its own, with long phrases. A pause brings a change in mood and the music becomes modal for a time. Again, this feels like a meeting of the Romantic with the Modern. Nearing the end, a touch of harmony can be heard.

The final movement is an energised, texturally dense affair where the feeling reminds me of an Andrea Tarrodi quartet that I have previously discussed. The pace is blistering, and the music unrelenting, without ever sounding difficult. A slight release has the ensemble catching its breath before a dynamic final flourish to conclude.

This wonderful music seems to me be to be by a composer caught between two worlds. The melodies are variously historical and contemporary, with a tendency to the former. It will be fascinating to hear some of the later quartets if they are ever recorded.

The review CD, String Quartets 1-4 performed by the Euclid Quartet on the Centaur Label is available on Amazon UK and Presto Classical as a CD and Amazon US as a download.

This disc is on Spotify and the contents can be found on earsense and YouTube.

Listenability: Very attractive and interesting 20th century works.

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