British composer Jonathan Harvey is difficult to pigeonhole. He has received inspiration and personal encouragement from Britten, Stockhausen, and Boulez, and it's possible to hear influences of all of them in various works from throughout his career. His instrumental music tends to lie mostly in the modernist arena, and the four string quartets and string trio recorded here are unequivocally the work of a composer more concerned with the properties of sounds than with notes. Harvey, a Buddhist, has repeatedly stated that his path is a quest for unity, but not a simple or easy unity, and the body of his work bears out that conviction. His music is neither simple nor easy, but it has an organic coherence and an often-lovely surface that could beguile new-music skeptics. Harvey has worked at IRCAM and his aesthetic is very much shaped by the possibilities of electronic music. These string works are strongly textural, with sounds ranging from the diaphanous to the granitic, and the music is driven by distinctive gestures. The String Trio is the most accessible piece recorded here, with discernible repeating patterns, allusions to Asian folk traditions, and a relatively direct structure, so it might be a good starting point for listeners new to Harvey's work. The Fourth Quartet uses live electronics, but because his string writing in all these works is influenced by his experience in electronic music, it feels very much of a piece with the other works. The quartet ends with a gorgeous sustained passage of ecstatic serenity that sets it apart from the kinetic energy of the rest of the piece. The Arditti Quartet plays the awesomely difficult music with utter confidence and conviction, and the players are completely successful in putting the pieces across as compelling aural experiences. The quality of the sound of Aeon's SACD is superlative, but it seems to be miked at a quiet level, so the volume may need to be boosted for the louder passages to make their full impact.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2