Arditti Quartet – review

Wigmore Hall, London

It's odd that the idea of virtuosity in music changed, over two centuries, from something rather shallow to become a guarantee of intellectual depth. For whatever reason, though, the difficulties posed by much late 20-century music have become an object of aesthetic fascination in their own right. Few figures are as closely tied to this idea than Irvine Arditti, and this Wigmore Hall concert, celebrating the British violinist's 60th birthday, was a bracing reminder of why he and his quartet remain such a powerful centre of gravity in new music.

Arditti began the concert alone, with Ferneyhough's Intermedio alla Cioaccona, a work whose premiere he gave in 1986. He performed it here with a fervour so of a piece with the score that it might have sounded nonchalant were it not for the little weeping figures that seep out of the densely variegated surface and build up an intense emotional charge. A contrasting focus was represented by Cage's violin arrangement of Eight Whiskus, where the difficulty lies in the variety of touch and timbre brought to a simple melodic line. In both works, the spectacle of one of the great animating presences in contemporary music communing with his instrument in all its vitality, fragility and flexibility proved unforgettable.

It was with the newer works for string quartet that the concert really transcended its commemorative function, however. Both Robert Platz's Strings (Echo VII) – which seems to compose itself out of inscrutable doodles – and Hilda Paredes's Cuerdas del Destino (Strings of Destiny), where a series of taut and brittle surfaces generate a frail and uncanny harmoniousness, received convincing British premieres. Shesha, written by the Japanese composer Akira Nishimura as a birthday tribute to Arditti, was entirely new. It showed itself to be an exquisitely crafted piece, teeming with dark energy and crowded possibility in a way that neatly summed up much of what Arditti and his quartet are about.

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Contributor

Guy Dammann

The GuardianTramp

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