Jack Quartet

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COMPOSERS: Cage,Ligeti,Pintscher,Xenakis
LABELS: Wigmore Hall Live
ALBUM TITLE: Jack Quartet
WORKS: Ligeti: String Quartet No. 2; Pintscher: Study IV for Treatise on the veil; Cage: String Quartet in Four Parts; Xenakis: Tetras
PERFORMER: Jack Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 1209076

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Three 20th-century masterpieces, plus one newcomer, are all tackled with an overwhelming sense of assurance, live from the JACK Quartet’s (above) 2011 Wigmore Hall debut. In Ligeti’s Second Quartet, they complement the precision of its various sonorities – harmonics, pizzicatos, glissandos – with a sense of pacing and dynamic shape, which makes the whole 20-minute span riveting. Matthias Pintscher’s Study takes the sound-world of the quartet even beyond that imagined by Ligeti 40 years earlier, with the lower strings on all the instruments prepared by attaching paperclips. The beauty and allure of the resulting ghostly sounds are astonishing, and again the sense of pacing in an essentially pulseless continuum makes for gripping results.

The non-vibrato playing in Cage’s Quartet is a danger zone that can ruthlessly expose shortcomings in the player’s intonation. But in the expert hands of the JACK Quartet the performance progresses with rhythmic certainty and a sense of affection, especially in the modally inflected outer movements.

After this deliberately unassuming music, Xenakis’s Tetras comes as a shock – as it should, with its violent glissandos, tone clusters, and uncompromising rhythmic and tonal energy. The ‘tetras’ of the title means ‘four’ in ancient Greek, yet the players form a single entity throughout most of the piece. There’s all the abandon of a live performance on this recording, and yet the sound is deep and detailed.

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Martin Cotton