Ligeti String Quartets No. 1 & 2

Strongly characterised, powerful readings of Ligeti’s two string [quartet] quartets which lack nothing in subtlety or technical finesse

Record and Artist Details

Composer or Director: György Ligeti

Label: Ars Musici

Media Format: CD or Download

Media Runtime: 43

Catalogue Number: AM1276-2

Tracks:

Composition Artist Credit
String Quartet No. 1, 'Métamorphoses nocturnes' György Ligeti, Composer
Artemis Quartet
György Ligeti, Composer
String Quartet No. 2 György Ligeti, Composer
Artemis Quartet
György Ligeti, Composer
It may seem odd to observe that Ligeti’s quartets have been a part of the ‘canon’ for some time; the Second is a little over 30 years old, and the First received its premiere only in the 1970s. Yet few string quartets of the late 20th century are as often performed as these, and it was only a matter of time before one of the up-and-coming younger ensembles took up the challenge thrown down by the Arditti Quartet in their recent re-recording of both pieces for Sony Classical (their earlier reading on Wergo dates from the late 1970s).
The First Quartet, nocturnes Metamorphoses nocturnes, dates from Ligeti’s Hungarian period, and the evident debt to Bartok notwithstanding, his approach to mass and textural transformation is recognisable to anyone familiar with his later music. There have been several recordings apart from the two Arditti versions, including a disappointingly glib reading from the Hagen Quartet. To their credit, the Artemis let the music breathe, and make much of Ligeti’s impish humour: both works are theatrical and benefit from being ‘played up’, which the Artemis do perhaps more freely than the Ardittis.
But the real test comes with the Second Quartet, where the Arditti’s pre-eminence is more obvious (the first recording, by the work’s dedicatees the LaSalle Quartet – 1/71 – is no longer available) and the composer’s demands rather fiercer. Here the acoustic makes a perceptible difference. The Arditti’s ambience is very resonant and has been recorded at a certain distance – presumably a lesson learnt from the Wergo session, which was miked so closely that one heard the players’ tense breathing. This introduces a psychological distance into the performance, and slightly blurs the sudden cuts and changes of texture on which the musical drama depends (though this is no criticism, merely an observation on the difference of emphasis).
The Artemis are miked more closely than the Sony recording, but the sound still allows for some beautifully differentiated, ‘atmospheric’ timbres (like the ‘organ-stops’ of bar 71, first movement). There is also a more palpable sense of immediacy, and a more riotous climax in the most abrupt passages (the ferocissimo fourth movement, most obviously). True, the drier acoustic gives them less cover when immediate contrasts are called for, but this never detracts from the sense of technical security. And for what it’s worth, the durations are closer to those prescribed in the score, where the Ardittis take things much faster despite the greater resonance afforded them by the acoustic. (Incidentally, all the Arditti’s recent re-recordings have tended to be perceptibly faster than the first recordings.) The Artemis offer a sufficiently different view from the Ardittis to make for an unmissable alternative. First-time buyers may defer to the Arditti’s pedigree, but they need not hesitate to start here.'

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