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Helmut Lachenmann at the Library of Congress

By Stephen Brookes • The Washington Post • November 15, 2008


here was tension in the air Thursday night at the Library of Congress. The young, forward-thinking Kuss Quartet was in town, and amid the cozy offerings of Haydn and Schubert was a work by Helmut Lachenmann, the hyper-modernist German composer whose ear-scorching works turn instruments into scraping, hissing noisemakers.

So we hunkered down with our fingers by our ears, ready for the onslaught. But Lachenmann's String Quartet No. 3 ("Grido") turned out to be an absolutely astounding and captivating piece of music, a marvel of invention and -- for all its strangeness -- undeniable beauty. Sure, Lachenmann pushes the sound palette into sometimes harsh areas. But he does it with such seamless logic and full-throttle imagination that the work unfolds as a gripping narrative from beginning to end.

Not everyone agreed, alas ("the worst piece of music I've heard in 25 years," one listener observed during intermission). But Lachenmann is clearly a composer of extraordinary gifts, and "Grido" ranks -- to these ears anyway -- among the more notable new works of the past decade.

The rest of the evening, by comparison, felt like pudding -- comforting pieces played well but without a lot of poetry or depth. Haydn's String Quartet in D, Op. 64, "Lark," made for an amiable start to the concert, and if you like your Haydn slightly chilled, you were in luck. Schubert's String Quartet in A Minor (D. 804), "Rosamunde," followed the Lachenmann and was balm to many ears, but it, too, was an oddly restrained performance; warm and pretty but too polite to set the room on fire.

Posted on Monday, November 17, 2008 at 01:07PM by Registered CommenterStephen Brookes | CommentsPost a Comment

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