From Scandinavia Arditti Quartet Vol 28
“From Scandinavia”, indeed! Three of the four composers, Magnus Lindberg, Kaija Saariaho and Jukka Tiensuu (plus Kari Kriikku), hail from Finland, and are thereby not Scandinavian. The odd one out here is the Dane, Bent Sorenson (b. 1958); his The Echoing Garden and Nordic Council Music Prize-winning violin concerto Sterbende Garten made a big impression on me when I reviewed them in June. His third string quartet, Angels’ Music (1987-8), is a less compelling, but still fascinating piece inspired by Roman church art. It is in no way illustrative, even in the subliminal manner employed by Saariaho, and is also the only one which doesn’t require an additional element to the four string players – live electronics in the case of Nymphea (1987, the third piece in the Jardin secret series); a clarinet in Lindberg’s bracing Quintet (1992), the quasi-tonal language of which came as a surprise; and a microtonally tuned, even ‘prepared’, harpsichord, played with steely virtuosity by Tiensuu himself for the weird, brittle sonorities of Arsenic and Old Lace (1990).
The Arditti are specialists in this kind of repertoire; few ensembles could tackle it so well. One such is the Kronos Quartet, their rivals in Nymphea. The Arditti strike me as slightly better focused, although Ondine’s sound quality is superior. In Angels’ Music, the Arditti are their own competition, recorded in 1988 for a two-disc issue featuring Sorenson’s first three quartets and two by his compatriot, Karl Aage Rasmussen. Auvidis’ 1991 recording has greater clarity and the performance is tauter, shaving over a minute off the alternative account.'