Although its origins and first performances have drifted into the mists of time, Glenn Gould’s String Quartet, Op. 1, provides a glimpse into the great composer and musician’s psyche and skill set for those string quartets and audiences adventurous enough to take it out for a drive. Gould finished the 35-minute quartet in 1955, a few months before recording the set of Bach’s Goldberg Variations that would turn him into an overnight piano sensation. Preceded by obscure childhood compositions, an atonal bassoon sonata, and an unfinished piano sonata, the ambitious quartet—redolent of late Romantic Strauss and Schoenberg, with quotations from Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge and Quartet in A minor, Op. 132— is music of consequence, fugal riches, and often darkly sumptuous beauty.
Even so, the quartet would certainly have been long forgotten if its composer were not a legend for his artistry at the keyboard. Fortunately, the fledgling Alcan Quartet, based in Chicoutimi, Quebec, where it is supported by the Canadian aluminum giant after which it is named, has come to the rescue with a splendid new recording on the ATMA label.
The Alcans—violinists Laura Andriani and Nathalie Camus, violist Luc Beauchemin, and cellist David Ellis—are uniquely qualified to help reintroduce the work of this fellow Canadian to a contemporary audience worldwide: the first violinist, Laura Andriani, studied at conservatory with violinist Paolo Borciani of the Quartetto Italiano. Borciani was very interested in Glenn Gould. “I was very touched and intoxicated by the quartet writing,” Andriani says. “Learning the score, however, was a very intense experience.”