Arditti Quartet – Brian Ferneyhough at 65

Impacts and Fractures [London premiere]
Microscopic Negatives
String Quartet No.1
String Quartet No.3 [World premiere]
Exordium – Elliotti Carteri in honorem centenarii [UK premiere]
Seven White Flowers
String Quartet No.3

Arditti Quartet [Irvine Arditti & Ashot Sarkissjan (violins), Ralf Ehlers (viola) & Lucas Fels (cello)]

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 16 February, 2008
Venue: Jerwood Hall, LSO St Luke's, Old Street, London

Brian FerneyhoughMarking Brian Ferneyhough’s 65th-birthday, as well as providing a platform for three pieces selected from a workshop held at Kingston University where a dozen compositions had been aired, this recital by the Arditti Quartet offered a programme as stimulating as it was substantial.

It also featured contrasting works by composers both deserving of a wider profile. Paul Archbold’s Impacts and Fractures (1999) is a short but vital study that presents its fragmentary ideas such that the larger design is left for the listener to envisage, while the Third Quartet (2008) by Roger Redgate (best known as long-time director of Ensemble Exposé) draws on the Magic Square depicted in Dürer’s engraving “Melancholia I” for the formal particulars in each of its 15 sections – a sequence that yet generates its own dynamic sense of internal cohesion and corresponding overall momentum.

A not dissimilar formal perspective was evinced by Steven Daverson’s Microscopic Negatives; the nine continuous movements are arranged palindromically around a central movement in which material from the first four is freely superimposed, thereby creating an anticipation of reprise that the remaining four movements variously fulfil in a satisfying if not overly memorable manner.

Seven White Flowers is Nadja Plein’s “imaginary journey through a forest of noise”, an evocative and also fastidiously realised succession of gestures and textures whose avoidance of any audible formal synthesis was no doubt intended. Best of the three workshop pieces, though, was the First Quartet (2000) by Michael Graubart – its three movements elegantly deploying a Schoenbergian serialism in the investigation of new expressive perspectives within an archetypal form. 78 this year, and with a distinguished academic career behind him, Graubart may now be coming into his own as a composer.

Arditti Quartet. Photograph: Ferneyhough has long been at the forefront of contemporary music – even though performances of his work in the UK remain more of an event than they might be. The Arditti Quartet has been a doughty champion of his string quartets for three decades this performance of the Third Quartet (1987) confirmed that the current players have lost none of their commitment. Nor has the impact of the piece diminished over time: its two movements fulfilling the age-old formal roles of antecedent and consequent with (in the first) a stasis riven by disruption that gives way (in the second) to a dynamism whose moments of arrest only enhance its visceral overall impact.

It was preceded by Ferneyhough’s most recent piece for string quartet: Exordium – Elliotti Carteri in honorem centenarii (2008) an intense tribute whose fragments suggest numerous ways of cohering in a manner that pointedly evokes the American master without in the least evoking his music or emulating his idiom.

Many of those who attended this St Luke’s concert appeared at the Institute of Musical Research on Monday for a lecture given by Ferneyhough. “Time for Thought? Temporal Experience in Making and Listening to Music” was a wide-ranging exegesis on the role of time and perception (leavened or not by memory) in his recent work, and a potentially forbidding topic whose spontaneous delivery made one think without making that thinking arduous. It also provided an opportunity to hear a recording of the premiere of his most recent piece for orchestra, Plötzlichkeit, a substantial work of unpredictable unfolding and inventive textures that urgently awaits its UK premiere. It also demonstrated an ability to evolve without compromise such as should sustain Ferneyhough’s creativity in the years ahead.

  • Broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on 12 April 2008 in Hear and Now
  • BBC Radio 3

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to content