Hugo Kauder was born
in Tobitschau, Moravia - now a part
of the Czech Republic - in 1888. Self-taught
as a composer, he played the viola in
professional orchestras and in string
quartets. He settled in the United States
in the early 1940s having fled from
the Nazis. He was a prolific composer
with 19 string quartets weighing in
amidst some three hundred other instrumental
and vocal compositions. In addition
to composing and teaching he was the
author of a respected book on counterpoint
that was published in 1960.
From the first measures
of the first quartet the listener is
captivated by the dense and somewhat
jagged writing, and then we are quite
surprised by a slow movement that is
richly tonal and lush and quite beautiful.
Kauder tended to write his most passionate
and personal music for his own instrument,
and as such, the viola gets some juicy
morsels. The third movement is fugal
and the interplay of melodic ideas and
subtle rhythmic gestures is fascinating.
The second quartet
is much more romantic, staying pretty
firmly in the realm of tonality with
the occasional strong dissonance thrown
in for variety. Like the first quartet,
it ends with a big fugue. Quartet No.
3 is fairly brief and is based on a
Czech folksong. One is reminded of the
music of Vaughan Williams here as Kauder
makes ample use of modal harmonies and
long, sweeping and imitative lines.
The fourth quartet
is cast in five short movements that
the composer described as "character
pieces". Each movement is taut
and heavily infused with modal melodies
again harking to Vaughan Williams, Delius
and other British "pastoral"
The Euclid Quartet
has a refined warm, rich tone, precise
ensemble and spot-on intonation. They
play with great expression, and the
subtle use of gestures such as the occasional
portamento - always included at the
perfect moment and with impeccable good
taste - makes for more than seventy
minutes of thoroughly enjoyable listening.
This disc was one of the more pleasant
and unexpected surprises to come across
the desk in a while. One can only hope
that the Euclid and other performers
will explore more of this composer’s