Arditti Quartet and Louise Bessette à TOronto
November 28, 2009, 12:00 am
From Saturday's Globe and Mail
Published on Saturday, Nov. 28, 2009 12:00AM EST
Last updated on Saturday, Nov. 28, 2009 3:45AM EST
Arditti Quartet with Louise Bessette
At Jane Mallett Theatre
in Toronto on Thursday
The Arditti Quartet is the gold standard of contemporary chamber-music ensembles. I doubt that any current group has brought more new works into the world, many of exceptional quality. No one plays contemporary repertoire with more passion and skill. As you can tell, I'm a fan, though I haven't had a chance to show my love since the Arditti played a previous Music Toronto recital in 2002.
This time, the quartet brought us a new piece by one of our own: Montreal composer Serge Arcuri, whose Le Tumulte des flots: Quintet for string quartet and piano (2008) got its first-ever performance at Thursday's concert. Much of this four-movement work dwells in a region where chords are not so much moves in a harmonic chess game as ways of teasing out the colours hiding within familiar instruments. The opening movement was particularly filled with magical resonances, achieved by artful voicings, crafty piano peddling (by the nimble Montreal pianist Louise Bessette) and luminous chord chains that sometimes climbed toward the heavens. Arcuri owes a debt to Olivier Messiaen, as he acknowledged in remarks from the stage, but the range of colours and the processive feeling of the piece (some of which felt like a structured improvisation) were all his own.
Pascal Dusapin's String Quartet No. 5 (2005) coursed through several changes of mood and tempo during its imaginary discourse with characters from Samuel Beckett, sometimes slashing the strings in argument, sometimes pacing through a long-breathed threnody, always seeming to engage us in a colloquy of heated intensity. The most striking bit was a minute or two of soft rapid tutti playing near the bridge, which came across like a whispered yet feverish discussion we were somehow able to overhear.
Harrison Birtwistle's The Tree of Strings (2007) showed an English master sounding completely at ease with his materials, unafraid to repeat some little rhythmic gizmo for as long as he wanted to hear it, clear in his thoughts and not at all set in his ways. For all his skill, I've never thought of Birtwistle as a particularly congenial composer, but in sections of this piece I felt as if he were speaking to me in a language that was mine, though I had somehow not encountered it before. A rare and unexpected experience. The serial departures of the four excellent players (violinists Irvine Arditti and Ashot Sarkissjan, violist Ralf Ehlers and cellist Lucas Fels), first to an outer row of chairs and then off the stage, felt both like an exile and a return to a wider, less intensely focused plane of existence. Come back please, and soon.
Globe and Mail