While György Ligeti was one of the true innovators of the mid-20th century, his music for string quartet has a retrospective quality, revealing the overwhelming influence of Béla Bartók, his predecessor in the genre. The exploration of extended string techniques in Bartók's quartets inspired composers of the next generation to push the limits even further, and Ligeti's writing for strings is clearly in line with this effort. The apparent sources for Ligeti's inspiration are Bartók's famous "night music" movements, particularly in the String Quartet No. 4, which evoke the mysterious fluttering of insects and other eerie nocturnal phenomena. Indeed, the subtitle for Ligeti's String Quartet No. 1 is "Métamorphoses nocturnes," and the works' date of 1953-1954 puts it in the time period when Bartók's influence on the avant-garde was at its peak. While the String Quartet No. 2 (1968) is less overtly derivative, it is nonetheless Bartókian in its chromatic complexity and sparse, otherworldly sounds, and it suggests that Ligeti fully internalized the results of his explorations and produced music of extraordinary power and effectiveness. The Béla Quartet has put enormous effort into these performances of Ligeti's string quartets, and the virtuoso performances are as fresh and vital as they are compelling. Included as a filler piece is a short work for solo cello, the concentrated Sonata (1948-1953), which shows Ligeti's early ideas of mixing cutting-edge techniques with urgently expressive music in a lyrical vein.
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AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson
|String Quartet No. 2|
|Sonata for cello|