Passion: The Music of Louis Andriessen – 16 October

Garden of Eros [UK premiere]
Facing Death
String Quartet in Four Parts
Sequi [London premiere]
Limiet [UK premiere]

Arditti String Quartet [Irvine Arditti & Graeme Jennings (violins); Dov Scheindlin (viola) & Rohan de Saram (cello)]

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 16 October, 2002
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

The penultimate concert in the South Bank’s Louis Andriessen retrospective brought quite likely the most intriguing programme.

Little heard in the UK thus far, Australian-born Mary Finsterer looks to be a name for the future. Sequi (from the Latin ’to follow’) integrates fast-moving lines and motifs into an intuitively evolving form. The momentum is effortlessly sustained over 15 minutes of constantly changing textures, whose microtonal element inflects the music across strategically placed tonal ’supports’. Exhilarating and engrossing, it galvanised the Ardittis accordingly.

Less involving musically, Diderik Wagenaar’s Limiet (1985) was a satisfying demonstration of an accelerating tempo made relative by the context of a slower pulse. Seemingly influenced by the diverse metrical intricacies of Ornette Coleman and Conlon Nancarrow, it stayed in the mind as a process enriched by its ambiguity.

Earlier, Cage’s String Quartet in Four Parts had proved an oasis of calm – pursuing a similar tonal trajectory in four very different rhythmic contexts. The result is akin to four varied ’takes’ from the same, consort-like sound source. As the easy motion of the first part complements the gentle rocking of the second, so the near-static movement of the third contrasts with the decisiveness of the final part. A ’one-off’ in mid-century quartet literature, its repercussions have been gradual and far reaching.

Certainly the second of Andriessen’s quartets is impossible to imagine without its precedent. Taking inspiration from an inter-war love poem by Jan Engelman and evidently incorporating its syllabic structure into the musical fabric, Garden of Eros (2002) is a ’quatour brillant’ such as Cage might have composed. The first violin occupies the foreground, without seeking to dominate, in an ethereal dialogue that serves well as a memorial for the composer’s older brother Juriaan.

If Facing Death (1991) seems much closer to archetypal Andriessen, this energetic traversal of Charlie Parker’s rhythmic, harmonic, melodic and – above all – expressive territory proceeds with a dexterity far removed from the conscious restrictions of the previous two decades. And, despite the composer’s acknowledgement after the fact, this is real quartet writing: flexible despite – or, perhaps, because of – the be-bop idiom which, in seeking to recreate, it finally transcends. Premiered by the Kronos Quartet, it sounded transformed as played by the Ardittis: a musical triumphing over immortality which aptly concluded an evening of rewarding music and outstanding music-making.

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