Glenn Gould / Sir Ernest Macmillan: String Quartet

Album cover art for upc 722056259620
Label: ATMA
Catalog: ACD22596
Format: CD

Quatuor Alcan

Glenn Gould (1932-1982): String Quartet, Op.1
Ernest MacMillan (1893-1973): String Quartet in C minor; Two Sketches based on French Canadian Airs

Wholenote Discoveries - April 2009
MacMillan began work on the String Quartet in c minor while interned as a civilian prisoner in Germany during the First World War. He had been attending the Wagner Festival in Bayreuth at time the war broke out. Although the quartet shows some influence of Ravel and Debussy – MacMillan had been in Paris before heading to Bayreuth – it most firmly reflects the composer’s roots in the English school of the time. It is charming and well-crafted and ever since first hearing it some four decades ago on a Deutsche Grammophon recording by the renowned Amadeus Quartet I have wondered why it has not become a staple of the repertoire. The Gould quartet, completed in 1955, is a bit problematic. An extended single movement work lasting more than half an hour, it is a brooding backward-looking piece which reflects Gould’s interest in the early works of Schoenberg and the New Viennese School as well as Brahms and Richard Strauss. There are fugal elements, as we would expect from someone who spent his life immersed in the work of Bach, and occasional sunny bits, but for the most part this is a dark and at times troubling piece. The Alcan plays both works with passion and conviction. Their sound is captured in full fidelity by producer-recordist Anne-Marie Sylvestre in the warm acoustic of Salle Françoys-Bernier at Domaine Forget. The recording also includes MacMillan’s most frequently performed instrumental work “Two Sketches on French Canadian Airs” with the rollicking waves of “À Saint Malo” bringing the disc to a vibrant conclusion.
David Olds
26 years after his death Glenn Gould remains probably the best-known Canadian classical musician. A phenomenal and controversial pianist, he was no less impressive – or eccentric – as a thinker, writer, and radio producer. However, Gould defined himself as “a composer who plays piano”; he started composing at the age of 5, and before his premature death at the age of 50 planned to devote himself increasingly to composition.
Gould applied the label "Opus 1" to his String Quartet in F minor. There were to be no higher opus numbers, for Gould then launched his dazzling international career as a pianist. Composed between 1953 and 1955, the period during which he was getting ready to record the Goldberg Variations for the first time, the quartet represents an astonishing intellectual mosaic of musical aesthetics.
Sir Ernest MacMillan was a dominating figure in Canadian musical life during the mid-20th century. Principal of the Royal Conservatory of Music, conductor of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra for 25 years, and long-time organist at Timothy Eaton Memorial Church (the Forest Hill bastion of Toronto’s business elite), MacMillan was synonymous with classical music in English Canada in a way that seems almost unimaginable today. MacMillan was on the podium when a 15-year old Glenn Gould made his TSO debut. (Gould was a Royal Conservatory student, and to complete the link, spend the last few decades of life living just a few steps from Timothy Eaton Church.)

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