Sono Luminus DSL-92250 28:28 mins
Although its name suggests connections with spectralism, US-based Spektral Quartet champions a wide range of contemporary music, supporting new pieces through an innovative concert series ‘Once More, With Feeling!’, in which debut works receive an immediate second performance, bolstered by on-stage conversations with the composer. Enigma, co-commissioned by the ensemble, Carnegie Hall and Washington Performing Arts – and receiving its first outing on record here – is a sonic portrayal of the halo of light seen around darkened objects (a penumbra).
The first movement opens with scratching and a sense of foreboding, subtly giving way to swollen, distended bowed notes. There are almost inaudible scrapes and the whisper of hair on string. High-pitched glissandos sound like bird calls. Anna Thorvaldsdóttir’s mesmerising score emphasises the scope and scale of sound, exploring the seemingly unlimited timbres of a string quartet. Multiple extended techniques – further developed in the skittish second movement – are sensitively integrated into traditional use of pitch, and pose no issue for the intrepid Spekralists. The final movement reflects the slow swell of the first, closing with a haunting drone-like passage in the cello part and a shadowy finale. Impressive production captures this half-hour work in its best light.