Armida Quartett

Bartók, Kurtág, Ligeti: String Quartets

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The Armida Quartet was named after one of Haydn's operas, and by making this reference to the "father of the string quartet," the group clearly wants to be associated with his great tradition. Yet for its first CD, this Berlin-based ensemble presents three important string quartets by modern Hungarian composers, Béla Bartók, György Kurtág, and György Ligeti, who grew out of the long line of Classical and Romantic composers for string quartet, even if the avant-garde music they wrote sounds a world away from Haydn's. Bartók's acerbic and technically advanced String Quartet No. 4 is the most influential piece on the program, and it is presented first, to demonstrate its connections to Kurtág's String Quartet, Op. 1, and Ligeti's String Quartet No. 1. Bartók's tightly constructed pitch cells, strongly characterized but brief movements, and extended string techniques clearly appealed to Kurtág, who further reduces elements in his extremely condensed quartet to starkly contrasted sonorities and the smallest gestures. Ligeti's quartet is comparatively less crystallized, though it also shares Bartók's motivic integrity and Kurtág's aphoristic brevity, combined with mordant wit and parody. These works feel all of a piece in Armida's skilled interpretations, and despite the obvious differences in these composers' approaches, the common bonds uniting them are readily apparent in the quartet's bravura playing, direct communication, and acute attention to details. Lovers of innovative and bracing music for string quartet should snap up this disc immediately.

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