Arditti Quartet – review

Queen's Hall, Edinburgh

Following Edinburgh's emphasis this year on things east of Suez, the Arditti Quartet devoted the first half of their morning recital entirely to works by Japanese composers.

Toru Takemitsu's A Way a Lone was the nearest among them to a contemporary classic, and has been part of the Arditti's huge repertory for many years. It tours a typical Takemitsu musical landscape, with references to Berg and Schoenberg en route, creating a succession of beautifully crafted sound objects without ever encountering anything especially memorable.

Alongside Toshio Hosokawa's Blossoming, though, it seemed positively crammed with ideas. Hosokawa's piece supposedly depicts the life-cycle of a lotus plant, from germination to flowering and decay, though the same generalised musical shape could just as easily be describing the making of a cup of tea or having an orgasm; the quartet writing is commonplace, its trajectory predictable. Dai Fujikura's second quartet, Flare, which the Arditti premiered earlier this year, certainly isn't predictable, however – its unravelling of tightly knotted pizzicato textures into something much more sustained and long-limbed is vividly worked out, even though the music doesn't always realise its intentions as crisply as it might.

The Arditti so consistently includes new and unfamiliar works in its programmes that attention generally falls on what they play, rather than how they are playing it. But with Ravel's Quartet in F in the second half here, the quartet allowed themselves the luxury of taking centre stage. Their performance was svelte and cool – bracing rather than warmly immersive. It was not the way anyone would want to hear the work all the time, but it provided a revealing corrective to performances that lay on the Gallic charm too heavily and indiscriminately.


Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

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