Bryars: String Quartet No. 1; String Quartet No. 2; String Quartet No. 3

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LABELS: Black Box
WORKS: String Quartet No. 1; String Quartet No. 2; String Quartet No. 3
PERFORMER: Lyric Quartet
For the first 15 or so years of Gavin Bryars’s career, the idea of writing a string quartet would have been virtually unthinkable. Along with many fellow spirits in the world of English experimental music, Bryars worked on not simply breaking down established forms but dispensed with them, and ‘establishment’ performers, altogether. There are few genres that have such solid traditions, and are as prescriptive in their fundamental instrumental requirements, as the string quartet. However, Bryars’s quartets are certainly not a compromise. Rather, they reconcile his compositional approach with a genre that has survived because it is open to regular subversion and rejuvenation by successive generations of composers.


The players of the Lyric Quartet, for whom the third quartet was written, are wonderful advocates for this music, beguilingly hypnotic, but not lacking a little grit and humanity. This is in many ways typical Bryars, but more overtly so, for there is nowhere to hide in a string quartet. The repetitive figurations, deceptively easygoing melodic gift and ability to manipulate perceptions of time are all there, as are the occasional passages that become progressively less interesting on each subsequent listening. Fans of Bryars will need little persuasion, but for the inquisitive, this makes an excellent introduction. Christopher Dingle