Arditti Quartet Surprises at Carnegie Zankel Hall
December 4, 2009, 12:00 am
December 4, 2009
MUSIC REVIEW | ARDITTI QUARTET
Last-Minute Changes Lead to Sudden Sounds
By ALLAN KOZINN
It seemed like a fantastic idea: the Hilliard Ensemble, best known for its performances of early sacred works (with occasional forays into the more mystical corners of new music) was to have joined forces with the Arditti Quartet, a group that specializes in the thornier end of the modern repertory, at Zankel Hall on Wednesday evening.
The project that was to unite them was Wolfgang Rihm’s “Et Lux,” and reports from London, where the two groups performed the piece last week, suggested that Mr. Rihm had found ways to move the ensembles in and out of each other’s comfort zones.
But when the Arditti players turned up for a rehearsal on Wednesday morning, they learned that one of the Hilliard singers was ill, and that performing the Rihm was out of the question. Instead of canceling the concert outright, the violinist Irvine Arditti and his colleagues — Ashot Sarkissjan, violinist; Ralf Ehlers, violist; and Lucas Fels, cellist — pulled together a short but vigorous string quartet program that even offered the audience the compensation of another Rihm score, the Quartet No. 12 (2001).
Mr. Rihm’s quartet begins with a whisper and ends with a whimper, but in between, it trades in explosive pizzicato bursts, vehement counterpoint and fast-bowed sections that produce an insectlike buzz. Mr. Rihm rarely asks his instruments to blend; instead, he has each change its timbre and articulation style continuously, and never has two instruments producing the same kind of sound. In one section, for example, a rubbery first violin line is set beside a shrill second violin, a harshly bowed viola and a snapping pizzicato in the cello.
Pascal Dusapin’s String Quartet No. 5 (2005) was inspired by the abstruse discussion between the title characters in Samuel Beckett’s “Mercier and Camier.” But it’s hard to hear it that way. In the work’s opening and closing sections, the first violin has a slowly unfolding, mildly angular line, which Mr. Arditti played with glowing vibrato and alluring warmth. The other three musicians play a rhythmically complex pizzicato texture that morphs gradually into a murky, bowed chord progression. This hardly seems a conversation, with the solo violin and rest of the quartet functioning on different planes and taking no notice of each other. In the middle of the work, where lines move more briskly, the imagery is that of a scampering chase, not a colloquy.
The Arditti players closed the concert with Harrison Birtwistle’s “Tree of Strings” (2007), a piece that uses many of the same techniques heard in the Rihm and Dusapin scores: pizzicato figures, harsh attacks, sudden fortissimos, singing solo lines. But Mr. Birtwistle uses these sounds descriptively: the piece is a vivid portrait of the Scottish Isle of Raasay, where he lived in the 1970s.
These musicians are entirely at home in this music. You would hardly have known that only a few hours earlier, they had no idea they would be playing it.
New York Times