WORKS: Black Angels; String Quartet, Op. 28; String Quartet
PERFORMER: Cikada Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: CACD 77001 DDD
George Crumb, Anton Webern and Witold Lutoslawski make an unlikely CD combination: there’s little in common between Crumb’s fundamentally sweet-centred confections and the diamond precision of Webern’s serial works, or Lutoslawski’s utterly personal reconciliation of neo-classicism with the concepts of aleatory and strict harmonic organisation.
Black Angels certainly skirts the edge of the apocalypse, with its doomy titles for each of the 13 movements, persistent references to the Dies irae plainchant and to Schubert’s Death and the Maiden, not to mention Crumb’s virtuoso writing for his amplified string quartet – his ear for instrumental sonority has always been hugely imaginative. But there’s also something cosily exploitative about the result, much more like a Hammer horror movie than a gritty piece of documentary footage.
The Norwegian Cikada Quartet seem more comfortable in these textural excesses than they are in the more tightly organised worlds of Webern and Lutoslawski, where greater refinement and precision are really required; both works have been recorded more convincingly elsewhere, especially by the LaSalle Quartet. But anyone who wants a good introduction to what the 20th century has done with the medium of four string instruments will find plenty to ponder upon in this particular combination of composers. Andrew Clements