All credit to Bridge Records for having the foresight to devote a sizable chunk of their new recording quota to spreading the gospel that is Fred Lerdahl.
A former student of such 20th-century luminaries as Milton Babbitt and Roger Sessions, Lerdahl writes music that defies easy categorization. It’s philosophical, metaphysical and at times dense, but also has a flair for captivating melodies and moments that stick satisfyingly to your ribs like oatmeal on a cold morning. This latest installment of Bridge’s Lerdahl collection is delivered by the Daedalus Quartet, whose Joycean name indicates their own capacity for mind-nourishing works and gripping accounts thereof.
This is the first time that Lerdahl’s three string quartets, written over a span of three decades between 1978 and 2008, have been preserved on recording. Revised slightly in 2008, the first spins out of a single chord in time and space into a frenzy of flourishes and colors building like a pyramid to an apex in the final ten minutes. It’s hard to imagine Lerdahl capturing this essence of a living, breathing musical organism in anything less or more complex than a string quartet, and the following two works reassert that it is here that Lerdahl is in his element.
Such a theme continues in variations throughout his second and third quartets, and it’s best to carve out an uninterrupted 70 minutes to take this all in at once. The Daedaluses think in architectural and engineering terms, constantly passing the tools among one another to make this high-rise of a triptych truly tower.