Ligeti: String Quartet No. 1; String Quartet No. 2; Andante and Allegretto; Hommage à Hilding Rosenberg; Ballade and Dance

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Ligeti
LABELS: Sony
WORKS: String Quartet No. 1; String Quartet No. 2; Andante and Allegretto; Hommage à Hilding Rosenberg; Ballade and Dance
PERFORMER: Arditti String Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: SK 62306
There’s a moment in Ligeti’s First Quartet when a dissonant tangle of lines is rudely cut off by a banal cadence. It’s the kind of jolt that makes you laugh, as if Bugs Bunny were to pop up in a Pinter play saying ‘That’s all, folks!’. Ligeti’s music is full of these sudden pitfalls, when something you’ve got used to turns abruptly into its opposite.

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This kind of music needs performances that sail close to the edge of hysteria, while being icily in control, and on that score these performances are sometimes a shade too ‘normal’. The Arditti’s performance of the First Quartet can’t rival the Hagen’s on DG for breakneck excitement. But it’s excellent in the ironic and playful moments. And the disc benefits throughout from a recording so close it makes you squint, though it has none of the boxiness that spoils the Arditti’s other recording on Wergo.

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The sound is ideal for the Second Quartet, where minute inflections of colour and texture take the place of melody and harmony. These two masterworks are coupled with some sweetly ingenuous pieces from Ligeti’s apprentice period, which at times evoke Vaughan Williams. A fascinating, lovingly played and recorded disc, which repays endless rehearing. Ivan Hewett