Guardian review String Quartets Nos 1 and 5

Pickard: String Quartets Nos 1 and 5

Brodowski Quartet

(Toccata Classics)
4 out of 5
Reviewed by Andrew Clements

More than two decades separate these two quartets; John Pickard’s Fifth Quartet was first performed in April this year. Unsurprisingly, the works differ sharply in structure and scale. Where the more recent quartet consists of five concise, well-behaved movements lasting 26 minutes altogether, the First is cast in a huge single span almost half as long again, which seems to hold itself together more by sheer creative will than anything else. Though the language is utterly different – Pickard’s writing always retains a firm grip on tonality – the scale and ambition of the music of the First brings Elliott Carter’s First Quartet to mind, especially in the sense of its being a work that had to be written before its composer could move forward. Much of the music is compelling, too, though just occasionally, especially in the pair of fugues at its centre, the material seems a bit academically four-square. I’m less convinced by the Fifth, which seems more conventional in every respect, but the First, superbly played by the Brodowski Quartet, is very well worth investigating.