Horatiu Radulescu's String Quartet No. 4, Op. 33, is, at least nominally, chamber music for two violinists, a violist, and a cellist, though the parts are multiplied through computer generation to sound as if there were eight virtual quartets and a ninth quartet playing in real time. Listeners may feel, however, that this electronically manipulated, densely layered work -- played to stunning effect by the phenomenal Arditti String Quartet on this 2003 release from Edition RZ -- is better classified as electro-acoustic music, or less charitably, as an experiment in noise; but it should be regarded in any case as something other than a string quartet in the traditional sense. Indeed, there are so few points in common between the conventions of string quartet writing and this challenging study of music and perception that one can legitimately question the use of the usual terminology for this sprawling, cosmic sound-sculpture. In his 49-minute examination of sonority, memory, and time, Radulescu certainly goes far beyond the expectations of classical developmental forms, and even transcends what is familiar of modernist methods and extended techniques. Instead, Radulescu approaches composition philosophically; he uses the medium to explore abstract concepts, rather than to develop particular musical ideas or express emotions. Through the use of unequal scales, ratios of durations to densities, and gradual alterations of rhythms and textures over long, slowly evolving sections, Radulescu produces music that matches anything by composers of the spectral school in mathematical complexity and microtonal variety; yet because of the quartet's implied "program," this is also music to think about. When Radulescu appends two enigmatic phrases as a subtitle -- "infinite to be cannot be infinite, infinite anti-be could be infinite" -- he presents a formula that apparently plays off ideas of Lao Tzu and Sartre. Yet it is unlikely many listeners will grasp this conundrum while absorbing the music, and it is perhaps asking too much of them to understand how it pertains, except perhaps in the most esoteric or suggestive ways. The String Quartet No. 4 is enthralling and sometimes daunting music that adventurous listeners will find utterly mesmerizing, but having a degree in existential philosophy is not required to appreciate this piece. The recording is quite variable in quality, though how much of that is due to the composer's intentions or to the hazards of performance is debatable.
AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson
String Quartet No. 4 for 9 string quartets or a string quartet surrounded by an imaginary 128-string viola da gamba, Op. 33