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Arditti Quartet at the Phillips Collection

By Stephen Brookes • The Washington Post • February 1, 2016

Few — if any — string quartets have had as much impact on contemporary music as the Arditti Quartet. Through virtuosic performances of works that leave other ensembles scratching their heads, the Arditti has introduced — maybe “revealed” is a better word — some of the most important new music of the past four decades. So it was a particular treat to hear the Arditti at the Phillips Collection on Sunday, where the group explored the subtle connections between three modern French masterpieces, and suggested that “impressionism” in music may still be very much alive.

Composer Pascal DusapinThe afternoon opened with one of the most striking quartets of 20th-century modernism, Henri Dutilleux’s “Ainsi la nuit,” from 1976. Rigorously structured, integrated down to its molecules, the work unfolded with such naturalness and weightless imagination that it felt almost improvised. That, no doubt, was largely because of the Arditti players themselves, who brought not only clarity and near-infinite detail to the work (which often has the impressionistic, wildly colored feeling of a dream), but also a heady sense of spontaneity.

The Arditti has long been championing the music of Pascal Dusapin, a formidable French composer whose music is not known here nearly as well as it should be. His “Quartet V” from 2005 proved to be an instantly captivating work, opening with lurching, plucked rhythms from the cello and viola under an ethereal line from the violin, which all gathered in density before building to a furious climax. But the most astonishing part of the work was the long, ultra-quiet passage that closed it, growing ever more gripping as it slowly descended, whispering and beckoning, into an unfathomable silence.

There are few works more lush and light-filled than Maurice Ravel’s String Quartet in F, a work of pure magic from 1903. It made a fine close to the afternoon, although Arditti, to these ears, never seemed entirely at home in its ultra-polished elegance, sounding a bit unsure and even rough around the edges at times. But whatever the performance lacked in fine detail and effortless grace, it more than made up for in characterful expression, and the final “Vif et agité” movement was so full of life that it won the group an extended standing ovation.


Posted on Tuesday, February 16, 2016 at 09:25AM by Registered CommenterStephen Brookes | CommentsPost a Comment

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