Helmut LACHENMANN (b. 1946)
Gran Torso (1971/76/88) [22:00]
Reigen seliger Geister
String Quartet No. 2 (1989) [27:35]
String Quartet No. 3 (2001) [24:05]
Stadler Quartett (Frank Stadler (violin 1), Izso Bajusz (violin 2), Predrag Katanić (viola), Peter Sigl (cello))
rec. 23-25 May 2008, Traumton Berlin
Region 0
Sound format: PCM 2.0 Stereo
Picture format: 16:9
NEOS 51001 DVD [76:00]

Bruce Hodges’ review of these quartets performed live in New York provides an amusing and apposite summary of their content: “Lachenmann's Gran Torso (1972), his first string quartet, is assembled primarily from pressing, scraping and scratching sounds. His second, from 1989 and subtitled Reigen seliger Geister (Dance of the Blessed Spirits) expands on that language, adding an array of ultra-quiet whooshes and what sometimes sounds like gas escaping at a low volume. The third, Grido (2001), to my ears announces a dramatic evolution, with a complex array of sounds and remarkable detail, with each moment precisely notated for pitch, volume and attack. The players pluck, thump, knock and scrape the wood, bowing the strings, the sides, the bridge and the scrolls of their instruments. Basically any sound that can be made is made, with melody receding into the background, and texture, phrasing and colour surging up front. Sometimes it felt as if we were in a darkened room, watching the four players… playing madly with a box of lit fireworks.”

My apologies to Mr. Hodges for such an extended plunder of his live review, but I would be hard pressed to come up with a more succinct description. This is indeed some of the most extreme avant-garde music you will come across for string quartet, but even if you have the 2010 CD release of the Stadler Quartet’s recording of these works the advantage of DVD is of course actually being able to see how these remarkable sounds are made. Gran Torso is filmed in black and white, the attention fully on the four players with plenty of close-ups of concentrated interaction and those views of a variety of techniques used to produce the sounds. Reigen seliger Geister is in colour as is the rest of the filming, the musicians now in white concert clothes as opposed to the more informal white shirts for Gran Torso, and black for Grido. Fading and artistic effects such as overlaid images liven up Reigen seliger Geister, swifter image changes reflecting the more animated quality of the music here and elsewhere.

Documentation with this DVD is decent enough, with notes by Peter Becker and biographies of the quartet and its musicians in four languages, but I had to work out the timings roughly from the screen counter, adding and subtracting with pencil and paper. Sound quality is very good indeed. I played this on my laptop computer via digital output run through a portable Alesis mixing desk and using my monster Grado headphones and the detail is tremendous. I would have to say this this is more a study document rather than something massively entertaining for a rainy Sunday afternoon, but if you are a fan of these works then being able to see them performed rather than just hearing them is a real treat. You can see the entire quartet playing their instruments like banjos in Reigen seliger Geister, for instance, and the sheer virtuosity and concentrated professionalism of the Stadler Quartet gives the entire thing an unexpected buoyancy, which will carry you further into these works than you might have expected.

Dominy Clements

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