Berio: Notturno; Sincronie; Glosse; String Quartet No. 1

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LABELS: Naïve Montaigne
WORKS: Notturno; Sincronie; Glosse; String Quartet No. 1
PERFORMER: Arditti Quartet
The Notturno of 1993 marked Berio’s return to the quartet medium after a gap of 30 years, and its Bartókian credentials are immediately striking: there’s the same mysterious insect-like night-music, alternating with impassioned melodic outbursts, rhythmic energy in the faster sections and the underlying hinterland of folk music. And, like Bartók’s works, it’s totally involving both emotionally and technically throughout its 25-minute span – though I wish that the Arditti had found more warmth of tone in the sustained music. The ensemble’s incredible technical accuracy and ability to produce an astonishing kaleidoscope of sounds is better suited to Sincronie, on the surface a more austere product of the Sixties, though even here links with the past aren’t completely severed. Tonal elements surface from time to time, and more than once there’s a flavour of strumming mandolins. The toughest piece is the short quartet from the mid-Fifties, serial and fragmentary, but its gestures find echoes 40 years later in the equally short Glosse, a mature and assured compendium of Berio’s quartet-writing expertise. Don’t be put off the music by the booklet notes, which talk about things like ‘hypothetical acoustic territory that is de-rhetoricised’. As Molesworth would say, it is not English, and do not make sense. Martin Cotton