WORKS: String Quartet No. 1; String Quartet No. 2; String Quartet No. 3; Eight Movements after Hölderlin Fragments for String Sextet
PERFORMER: Arditti Quartet, Thomas Kakuska (viola), Valentin Erben (cello)
CATALOGUE NO: 999 646-2
The 73-year-old Friedrich Cerha has established his place in musical history as the man who completed the third act of Berg’s Lulu; he has also worked extensively as a conductor, founding the Viennese die reihe ensemble, dedicated to the performance of comtemporary music. But he is first and foremost he is a composer, and as these quartets written between 1989 and 1992 demonstrate, someone who has made his own distinctive pact, lacking dogma or prescription, with the post-war avant garde.
It’s music of great, sharply focussed intensity; each of the first two quartets is single, arching, span of music; the Third consists of six short movements. The style is heterogeneous yet coheres beautifully; there are sections that seem directly born out of Berg and the Second Viennese School, others that introduce the tangled textures of a later generation, and just occasionally shards of melody shine through. The harmony never loses its grip on tonality altogether, even though it sometimes delves into microtones; the complex aggregates of rhythm look beyond Europe for its sources. Yet that makes the music sound harder going than it really is, for Cerha is always communicating, and in the 1995 string sextet, based upon the poetry of Hölderlin, he produced a series of miniatures, starting from the speech rhythms of the texts, that have a real poetic immediacy; his own description of the first of them, ‘a uniquely brightly gloom’ is just right. Andrew Clements