The title is deliberately ambiguous. ‘Bracing Change’ can mean both ‘a refreshing change’ and the notion of nurturing and supporting change. Both are in evidence on this recording of two string quartets and a quintet by three composers noted for their willingness to strike out along individual paths and embrace change.
Simon Holt’s 3rd Quartet belongs to ‘bracing change’ in its literal sense. Edgy and unpredictable, the quartet is as invigorating as a shower of ice-cold water. Set out in six short movements, each with an evocative title and imaginatively captured on this recording by the Jack Quartet, Holt’s music shifts from the visceral volatility of the first movement (‘matins’) to unexpected jolts and disruptions in the fifth (‘the foresaken cry’). Exhausted by the music’s muscular exertions, the last movement (‘Night’s mantle descends’) catches its breath on a final pulsing chord.
Change of a more programmatic nature is portrayed in Donnacha Dennehy’s excellent The weather of it. Composed in a continuous musical stream lasting almost 20 minutes and performed with energy and vitality by the Doric Quartet, acoustically aerodynamic figures and patterns glide along until blown off course by sudden changes in direction or temperature. Shifts occur through rapid changes in register and articulation, with Dennehy imaginatively exploiting the quartet’s full range and drawing on harmonics, overtones and microtones.
By contrast, Anthony Gilbert’s Haven of Mysteries for string quintet replaces Dennehy’s wave-like shapes with concentrated bursts of expression. As Steph Power observes in her booklet note, the central viola forms the fulcrum around which a series of dialogues is exchanged between two sets of violins and cellos. The Carducci Quartet imbue the work with hues of deep auburn and russet, underpinned by Guy Johnston’s resonant cello. The work’s original source of inspiration may have been Gilbert’s interest in medieval architecture but the work is organically conceived, with change this time built into the very foundations of the material itself.