Arditti Quartet

Nancarrow, Ligeti, Dutilleux: String Quartets

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Among contemporary music ensembles, perhaps none is more ambitious or daring than the brilliant Arditti String Quartet, which presents three virtuosic modernist works on this Wigmore Hall Live release. The metric complexities of Conlon Nancarrow's short, etude-like String Quartet No. 3 (1987) test the player's rhythmic precision and linear independence, while the ensemble's cohesion and balance are challenged in the 12 epigrammatic sections of Henri Dutilleux's String Quartet, "Ainsi la Nuit" (1973-1976). But while both of these works are undeniably impressive for the great difficulties they present, the tour de force of this recording is György Ligeti's enormously demanding String Quartet No. 2 (1968), a masterpiece of extended string techniques and sonorities that is a bold continuation of the explorations of Béla Bartók; yet this work is an intense musical experience in its own right, for all the stark contrasts of material and fantastic experimentation. Listening to this disc in one sitting can be invigorating or exhausting, depending on one's experience and inclination toward avant-garde string quartet music; since the density of detail is high, there is a lot to absorb here, and all three string quartets require the sharpest attention. Yet the Arditti String Quartet is a superb guide to these uncompromising pieces, and the group's exuberance and phenomenal playing undoubtedly made this April 9, 2005, concert enjoyable for its audience. The reproduction is remarkably vibrant and almost palpable in its presence.

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