Arditti Quartet: Pandora's Box
Rebecca Saunders’s Fletch (2012) is the work of a composer who knows very well, probably too well, how to turn in a commission. Tailored towards the Arditti Quartet’s trademark scatchy fluidity, the piece sets itself in motion via a welded-together sonic sound effect: a glissando combined with behind-the-bridge trills around a harmonic meets a rapid hairpin crescendo. Which presumably looks great on paper, but the feeling that this notational bonbon has been imposed upon sound, which couldn’t care less either way, is difficult to avoid.
Benedict Mason’s String Quartet No 2 (1993) refuses to accept the string quartet in terms spelt out by such pretendy-modernism, this project instead being to penetrate inside quartet mannerisms and stock ways of responding. All six movements, bookended by two fidgety, rhythmically lopsided scherzos, run a particular compositional obsession into the ground: the second movement cushions pure-toned major 10ths with pale harmonic shadows that evaporate just as they are sounded; ‘Alla chitarra’ treats the quartet like a mutant slide guitar; while a slow movement squats inside rarefied microtonal cracks. Each movement is a character vignette but, on a point of order, the sequence we hear is different to the running order listed in the booklet.
Wonderful Four-Headed Nightingale (2013) by Luke Bedford is a tautly managed, well-heard miniature packed with expansive event, the lushness of its central theme tossed into relief by surrounding microtones and start/stop shuffling. Never knowing quite what to expect from John Zorn, the saxophonist and composer whose playing rebounds out of Ornette Coleman and Anthony Braxton, his compositional capriccio invoking Schoenberg, Zemlinskyand Viennese expressionism, Pandora’s Box, is clever and affecting. Sarah Maria Sun soars between Sprechstimme and boldly sculpted melodic lines. The occasional Bernard Herrmann-like ostinato questions the stylistic fantasy – but otherwise we party like it’s 1899.