review: Ligeti Quartet

Lunchbreak Concert in association with sound 2013
Ligeti Quartet
Cowdray Hall
Thursday, 31 October 2013

Alan Cooper writes...

Thursday’s Lunchbreak Concert featured the second performance for SOUND by the Ligeti Quartet. At Woodend Barn the previous evening they had proved themselves to be one of the most exciting and dynamic groups in the business and their performance on Thursday totally confirmed that impression.

They began their programme with Fellow Traveller by John Adams. Adams has also written a piece entitled Short Ride in a Fast Machine and this would have been an apposite title for this string quartet work as well. The music motors along at full tilt right from the beginning. John Adams is one of the most imaginative composers of the minimalist school. The changes of pattern and texture throughout the quartet as it progresses gave the piece an extra sense of forward momentum, something that was captured brilliantly by the Ligeti Quartet on Thursday.

Quartet Movement by Peter Maxwell-Davies was originally part of a full length quartet which the composer had submitted to the Society for the Promotion of New Music in the fifties. It was rejected and in a fit of temper the composer burnt the manuscripts. This quartet movement survived in its original note form and was reconstituted to produce the work we heard today. As viola player Richard Jones said it is remarkable for the contrapuntal rhythmic overlapping which reminded me of some of the early non serial works of composers like Schoenberg, Webern or Berg. It had enough echoes of romanticism left to make it instantly attractive – what a pity the rest was destroyed!

There is a romantic streak in Bartok’s music as well that co-exists alongside so many other things like thematic cross references, folk elements and imaginative new approaches to structure. This was a great piece that received a fresh and vibrant performance by the Ligeti Quartet. In the opening movement, angular thematic writing was powered by a rhythmic impetus that was every bit as forward driven as the John Adams.

The sound of muted strings in the second movement was given a restless skeletal feel before the third movement, the heart of the work in which first the cello and later the first violin ascended cantor-like above a quiet chordal backdrop created by the other instruments.

The exciting pizzicato fourth movement full of rhythmic jabs and fingers-a-flutter echoed the feeling aroused by the second skeletal movement before the finale which was most overtly folk music referenced. I sensed the influence of the Stravinsky of The Rite of Spring in this music too and the Ligeti Quartet fairly made it sizzle in their performance.

© Alan Cooper 2013

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