Perle: String Quartets – No 2 in D minor, Op 14, No 5 and No 8 (Windows of Order); Molto adagio

Reviewed on Mon 21 Oct, 2013

The eight string quartets of George Perle (1915-2009) reflect his comprehensive knowledge of the quartet language of Bartók, Schoenberg, Berg, and even his friend Elliott Carter, but most of all they reveal his deeply personal style. From the early Molto adagio (1938) and Quartet No 2 (1942), specifically identified in D minor, to the abstract No 8 (1988, subtitled 'Windows of Order'), Perle's language shows a wide-ranging chromaticism that often reaches into tonality, but never nostalgically; the chromaticism creates a special kind of harmony that is as rich as it is varied. The Quartet No 5 (1960), the best-known of the works on this CD, is of particular interest for its steady pulses in proportional tempi; Perle called it 'one of the most successful of my 12-tone tonal works'. These are among the finest string quartets by any American composer, and the superbly accurate performances by the Daedalus Quartet are sensitive and lovingly expressive.
–Mark DeVoto