String Quartet No.3
String Quartet No.4
String Quartet No.5
String Quartet No.6 (Serenade)
[Irvine Arditti & Graeme Jennings (violins); Ralf Ehlers (viola) & Rohan de Saram (cello)]
Recorded in June 2005 in All Saints Church, East Finchley, London
Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield
Reviewed: October 2006
CD No: DEUX-ELLES
Duration: 58 minutes
Back in 2001, just after the premieres of Adrian Jack’s Fourth String Quartet and the occasional piece, 08.02.01, along with a revival of the Third Quartet, I wrote on The Classical Source: “So, which record company will take the plunge and issue a CD of Adrian Jack’s music? Here is a growing corpus of hugely satisfying chamber and instrumental works by a careful, honest composer, whose music is as deft and succinct as his reviews. In this time of cosmetic ephemera, is it too much to suggest that such enjoyable and lasting works be afforded wider recognition?”
I’m rather amazed that those comments are five years old, but utterly delighted that Deux-Elles (whether spurred on by my challenge or, as I suspect, not) has recorded Jack’s most recent quartets and issued them on this very welcome disc.
This is intimate music to cherish, with Jack’s singular voice (though with tantalising hints of influences) and musical logic notable within each work, and which sustains the whole disc. Here is an hour’s worth of string quartet music that can be enjoyed without recourse to Jack’s own illuminating notes, as if the 16 movements were a single work, encompassing six years of Jack’s creative writing – from 1996 to 2002. (Adrian Jack was born in 1943.)
The pivotal work on this CD is 08.02.01, premiered by the Arditti Quartet on the date that informs its title, and which is also Irvine Arditti’s birthday. This ‘birthday offering’ was originally planned to be the opening movement of Jack’s Fifth Quartet, but it has a rather skew, unsettling underpinning rhythm, which didn’t lend itself to expanding into a full work. On the disc we can immediately hear how different his actual Fifth Quartet turned out (starting with a different lilt, and much more lyrical).
Jack himself explains that his first two quartets were rather sumptuous and ‘orchestral’ in make-up, while the four recorded here are more sinuous and spare in sound. What they eloquently display is his acute sense of timbre that constantly sets instruments over a distinctive accompanying ostinato. As it happened the Sixth Quartet also nearly didn’t become a quartet. It is termed Serenade, with five movements entitled in a quasi-Baroque way, but with some intriguing names: ‘Aubade’, ‘Berceuse’, ‘Scherzo’, ‘Retrospect’ and ‘Prospect’. In this last movement Jack is looking forward – hopefully – to writing more string quartets. The ‘Aubade’ is intriguing especially as caught unawares one might be forgiven as to not knowing immediately what instruments might be playing; harmonics and chirruping phrases making the soundworld very otherworldly.
While intensely musical, there seems to be another process going on here: a questing sense of timbre and opposing forces. That has meant every time I’ve listened to this disc I’m heard different aspects; which – of course – makes me return to it all the more. It’s not that Adrian Jack’s music is deceptively easy on first hearing, although he does better than most contemporary composers in beguiling the ear, but there is something satisfyingly organic about the way he composes that makes re-listening very hard to resist.
There’s part of me that wants to say this is akin to a modern compendium for string quartet, if that does not sound too dry. But this collection of movements seems to set musicians various challenges in matters of style and technique, which I hope many more ensembles will seek to master. From unusual sonorities to the jazzy influences that end both the Third and Sixth Quartets to the open-ended hanging pauses that leave the listener expectant for more, this disc offers a subtle set of shifting moods.
Needless to say, the Arditti Quartet gives wonderfully assured and dedicated performances, recorded in All Saints’ Church, East Finchley, and captured faithfully by engineer Tony Faulkner.
All credit to Deux-Elles. Do get hold of a copy of this release and submit to Jack’s quiet but confident voice. Links below to the websites of Adrian Jack and Deux-Elles.