S&H Concert Review
Janácek: String Quartet Nos 1 & 2 Jack: String Quartets
Nos 3 & 4, 08.02.01
Arditti Quartet (Irvine Arditti & Graeme Jennings, Dov Scheindlin, Rohan de Saram) St John's, Smith Square Thursday 8 February
Arditti Quartet recitals are hardly a regular fixture on the London calendar these days, so one featuring new and unfamilar repertoire was an appealing prospect.
Not that Adrian Jack is an unfamiliar name to devotees of new music, having been responsible for several series of innovative and thought-provoking New MusICA concerts at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, and a regular contributor to The Independent and several music journals. Whether or not composition has been a continual pursuit, the string quartet medium has clearly exerted its grip in recent years. The Third Quartet dates from 1997, its successor from two years later, and, after a false start which yielded the single movement opening tonight's second half, a fifth has recently been completed.
In the context of Janácek's unashamedly autobiographical works, Jack's quartets were characterised by an inherent abstraction. Musical coherence is apparent at all levels, from consistency of texture to the motivic unity between movements and across the quartets themselves. The teasingly elusive quality of Quartet No. 3's opening movement, barely offset by the scherzo's rhythmic cross-play, only becomes explicit when the gradually cumulative finale turns full circle to its thematic origins. Quartet No. 4 is differently structured, progressing from a light, airy movement, through an often wistful intermezzo, to a finale which clinches the work as much by intensification of mood as by formal logic. 08.02.01 has demonstrably greater variety of ideas and dynamic profile: a satisfying entity in itself, as Jack discovered.
Not music with which the Arditti's are much associated these days - though some will remember their playing Gavin Bryars' First Quartet back in the early 1980s, which shares at least superficial similarities in demeanour - their committed restraint must surely have pleased the composer. If Janácek's tensile energy and emotional plangency would seem more in keeping with their 'core repertoire', this was not always the case in the Kreuzer Sonata, where only the lacerating final movement seemed to galvanise the players. Not so Intimate Letters, whose rapier-like attack and passionate abandon combined in a performance of towering intensity. The Arditti's should programme it again soon, perhaps with Jack's Fifth Quartet and a work likely outside their repertoire but relevant to so much of it - Smetana's Second Quartet.
As an ensemble, the Arditti's are perhaps playing better than ever. Their next London concert, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on April 19, should be well worth catching.
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