Dillon: Traumwerk; String Quartet No. 2; Parjanya-vata; Vernal Showers

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LABELS: Naïve Montaigne
WORKS: Traumwerk; String Quartet No. 2; Parjanya-vata; Vernal Showers
PERFORMER: Arditti String Quartet, Nieuw Ensemble
James Dillon has written such a sizeable body of string music – three substantial quartets, as well as solo pieces and duos – largely because of the Arditti Quartet, and everything on this disc owes its existence to the ensemble’s exceptional ability to master his hugely demanding and fiercely combative writing. There is no easy listening on offer here, but the rewards of this gritty, challenging music are considerable.


Even a conventionally innocent medium like two violins gets a working over in his hugely impressive Traumwerk, a sequence of 12 miniatures that belies the slender resources of music of real power and emotional scope. There is the same intensity in his single-movement Second String Quartet, an arch form of intricate relationships and vivid, lingering images, while the early solo cello Parjanya-Vata shows how much intensity Dillon could load on to a single instrumental line. Vernal Showers is a chamber concerto for violin, written for Irvine Arditti, and derived from an earlier solo-violin work, though it’s much more than an expansion of its predecessor. The violin is underpinned by a trio of low strings in the first movement, by the full chamber ensemble in the second, in which guitar, mandolin and harpsichord add a crisp glitter to the sound-world; the music is wonderfully discursive, full of sharp-focused invention; all the performances, it almost goes without saying, are as near definitive as anyone could possibly want. Andrew Clements