Collection: U.S.A

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Cage,Carter,Feldman,Ives,Nancarrow
LABELS: Disques Montaigne
WORKS: Music by Nancarrow, Carter, Ives, Feldman, Cage,
PERFORMER: Arditti String Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 1 CD 782010 DDD

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Far from the easy approachability of the more ubiquitous Minimalist side of recent American music, this collection features the string quartet repertoire of the more doggedly modernist and experimental US composers, from Charles Ives to John Cage.

There are anomalies, though: Elliott Carter, the doyen of the older generation of modernists, is represented by his early Elegy (1946), closer in language to Barber or early Tippett than his later, more inscrutable style – Ives’s brief, chaotic Scherzo (1903-14) sounds even more daring than it is by comparison. The most substantial work in the collection is the 20-minute Four (1989) of John Cage. Yet it is substantial primarily in length: its musical content is sparsely pointillist, frail even, in the pianissimo-dominated spare style characteristic of his last years.

The other works are Conlon Nancarrow’s vivacious first quartet (1945), Morton Feldman’s sotto voce Structures of 1951 (in a style that inspired Cage’s quartet), Jay Alan Yim’s Autumn Rhythm (1984-85), with its Ligeti-like clusters and stratospheric writing, La Monte Young’s Webernesque On Remembering a Naiad and the pithy Fragments (1961) of Alvin A Lucier.

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As is to be expected from the Arditti, this eclectic mix is played with a devotion and authority others save only for the most central works of the quartet repertoire – not always easy listening, perhaps, but rewarding none the less. Matthew Rye