Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Ardittis, aborted

Bernd Richard Deutsch
Konzerthaus, 2/11/2012
Arditti Quartet

György Kurtág: Hommage à Mihály András – 12 Microludes, op. 13 (1978)
Georg Friedrich Haas: String Quartet No. 2 (1998)
Bernd Richard Deutsch: String Quartet No. 2 (2012, world premiere)

The abiding public memory of this concert is likely to be its premature conclusion, and a typically indignant reaction to Matthias Lošek’s announcement – cries of ‘Frechheit!’ and suchlike – moved Irvine Arditti to plead ‘ladies and gentlemen, please do try to enjoy the first half’. Enjoyment enough to hear the Viennese spoken to like wayward children, but also, speaking for myself, gratitude that despite the organizational ineptitude the concert had been brought forward thirty minutes to ensure at least a full and undisturbed first half.

I wrote about Georg Friedrich Haas’ second string quartet once before, here, and would like to see a score before adding anything about the piece, except to note that Arditti cellist Lucas Fels opened the work by lunging at his C string with extreme force, a conscious destablization which went some way beyond localized pitch distortion or the ever-present Arditti determination never to hold back. Aggression and undermining of the work’s persistent root works as well as gentle anchoring, and is consistent with those moments when Haas will simply let an idea disintegrate – the first interruption of the harmonica-like microtonal texture and subsequent baleful glissandi cohered well as a sequence and had more drama than I recall from LUX’s more placid performance – but the antagonistic take on Haas’ writing expended all its insights by the seven or eight minute mark and decimated the work’s spectral qualities. A more satisfying approach, or at least one with Schweben, remains the Kairos Quartet recording I came across shortly after hearing the LUX performance, available in full on Youtube.

European contemporary music is populated by more modernists who don’t take themselves too seriously than some would care to admit, an identity Bernd Richard Deutsch comes closer to typifying the more I hear of his music. His second string quartet, premiered in this concert, opens with squealing syncopated fragments possessed of a rollicking, beer-swilling temperament and accompanied on their return by some inevitable foot-stomping and brief yelping. A calmer central section is marked by classical refinement and animalistic asides, less Deutsch’s Mad Dog than Carnival of the Animals, nattering away over a sensitive cello solo which has further space carved out for it – a good thing too, as Deutsch has a real gift for melody – when the hyperactive fragments resume. From the work’s Bavarian sensibilities to the unshowy sophistication and economy of the writing, there is something refreshingly unpretentious and sharp-witted about the way Deutsch nudges disparate elements into dialogue, an aspect of style the Ardittis did justice to without redundant overstatement.

Breadth of expression is even greater yet in Kurtág’s 12 Microludes, and continuity of line was striking amid the fundamentally non-linear web of aphoristic statements and their foregrounding and afterechoes, set in motion minutes into the work. It was however in the realm of effect that this performance made its most lasting impression, particularly in the vocal quality ascribed to the pristine harmonics, semitonal clashes and aria-like solos. What a bridge – bearing in mind the influence of Kurtág’s Omaggio a Luigi Nono – this would have made to the cancelled Fragmente – Stille, an Diotima.

Image credit: Tony Gigov

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