- Conductor: None
- Composer: Harvey
- Audio CD (9 May 2011)
- Please Note: Requires SACD-compatible hardware
- SPARS Code: DDD
- Number of Discs: 2
- Format: Double CD, Hybrid SACD, SACD
- Label: Aeon
- ASIN: B001RIGD8W
- Other Editions: MP3 Download
- Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 180,665 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)
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Harvey: String Quartets And Trio Double CD, Hybrid SACD, SACD
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Jonathan Harvey composed his First String Quartet in 1977, and has returned to the form once a decade since, composing all four for the Arditti Quartet, who play them with such energy and precision here. --Andrew Clements, The Guardian, 24th April 2009
The Arditti are surely the perfect interpreters of Jonathan Harvey's chamber works, unfussily accommodating the requirements of a composer whose directions involve playing certain sections in masculine or feminine personalities, and noting "hot" and "cold" chord distinctions. Here, they manage to depict both Harvey's development through four String Quartets spanning a quarter-century, and the sustained focus of his style. The String Quartet No 1 from 1977 remains a remarkable piece, progressing from quiet smearings of gossamer glissandi, through more animated passages of angular, spiky flurries, reaching a feverish climax of spluttering pizzicato before resolving into a sort of brittle acquiesecence. --Andy Gill, Friday, 17 April 2009, The Independent
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An earlier Arditti Quartet recorded Quartets No. 1 and 2 in the early '90s in their Montaigne series. This new set includes Quartets 1, 2 and 3 on the first disc. They were written in 1977, 1988 and 1995, and chart Harvey's exploration of harmonics, overtones, and other aspects of sound that came to known as "spectralism," most closely associated with Gerard Grisey and Tristan Murail of France. Interestingly Harvey's impetus to move in this direction came from his immersion in the music of Stockhausen, who he studied with briefly at the Darmstadt Summer Course in 1966. (He also studied at greater length with Milton Babbitt, the American serialist composer.) Harvey's music thus occupies a space intersecting with both serialism and spectralism. Harvey has also worked with IRCAM in Paris since 1980, applying his spectralist theories in the form of electro-acoustic music utilizing the state-of-the-art facilities and personnel.
So much for the theoretical background. What does this avant-garde music sound like? After many listenings, I can report that it can be opaque and elusive, but never less than strangely compelling and/or compellingly strange. Quartet No.Read more ›
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In a sense, it is a string quartet that introduced the mature Harvey. He was already in his mid-30s with a long list of works behind him, but the String Quartet No. 1 (1977) shows the cohesion of his interest in mysticism, liberal use of serialism and spectralist sympathies. It begins with the violinists softly playing a middle D and its overtones in an icy-cold fashion. Eventually a full scale appears out of these evocations of the D spectrum and development begins. Openings that seem to grow organically from a mid-frequency sound are something that Harvey is especially good at; his work "Bhakti" for chamber orchestra and electronics begins in a similar way. The work climaxes with a pizzicato passage that is remarkably smooth and gentle for this kind of string technique.
The String Quartet No. 2 (1988) does away with that unison and calm. Cast in three movements, it repeats a basic cell with much violence, and the quartet doesn't play together as much as one instrument after another wrings out a sonority. The effect is something like a garden filling with weeds before your eyes. Harvey intended a contrast here between "hot" and "cool" music which increases the sense of tension. It's a fun piece, and a good change of pace after the first quartet.
The Ardittis have recorded these two quartets before. I've not heard the earliest release of the First on vinyl, but the 1995 recording of the First and Second with the Arditti lineup of the time is still occasionally available. There's no real difference between that old recording and this new one, but this one can be seen as superior for its SACD sound.
With the 1990s came a new quartet, and the String Quartet No. 3 (1995) proceeds not through conventional thematic development, but through constantly changing juxtapositions of 12 themes, like looking through a kaleidoscope. This method of chaining discrete components and continually rearranging them had fascinated Harvey over the last several years. Instead of dialogue, the four players are treated as a sort of super-instrument. The whirling shapes and shimmering microtonal inflections make this a very engaging piece.
Harvey's latest work in this format is the String Quartet No. 4 (2003), which is scored for string quartet with live electronics. Moving through five cycles that symbolize the evolution of a personality towards enlightenment, this quartet shows the most organic development since Harvey's first quartet. There's an insane level of overt virtuosity too. I must admit that I find this piece frustrating on disc. If I were listening on a SACD player, I could at least hear the spatialization that is such an important part of the work, but the killer is the immense dynamic range of the piece. I'd like to think I have a good listening environment, but I can't hear anything until almost a minute into the piece, and later some of the pianissimo interludes are inaudible as well -- this quartet would probably be a lot more enjoyable live, where you could see the ensemble.
After the calm of the quartets, the String Trio (2004) is striking for its folk dance opening. The dance subsidies, but the String Trio goes on to prove one of Harvey's more overtly melodic works. That's not to say that it's conventional, as the music is often played at low dynamic or as harmonics. There's a contrast between the "sacred" and the "pastoral", and Harvey looks back to some of his sacred music of a quarter-century before.
I've always thought the first quartet especially to be an excellent introduction to Harvey's music. A two-CD import might seem too much to take a risk on, but anyone who loves modern-classical music with a spectral touch is unlikely to be disappointed.
An earlier Arditti Quartet recorded Quartets No. 1 and 2 in the early '90s in their Montaigne series. This new set includes Quartets 1, 2 and 3 on the first disc. They were written in 1977, 1988 and 1995, and chart Harvey's exploration of harmonics, overtones, and other aspects of sound that came to be known as "spectralism," most closely associated with Gerard Grisey and Tristan Murail of France. Interestingly Harvey's impetus to move in this direction came from his immersion in the music of Stockhausen, who he studied with briefly at the Darmstadt Summer Course in 1966. (He also studied at greater length with Milton Babbitt, the American serialist composer.) Harvey's music thus occupies a space intersecting with both serialism and spectralism. Harvey has also worked with IRCAM in Paris since 1980, applying his spectralist theories in the form of electro-acoustic music utilizing the state-of-the-art facilities and personnel.
So much for the theoretical background. What does this avant-garde music sound like? After many listenings, I can report that it can be opaque and elusive, but never less than strangely compelling and/or compellingly strange. Quartet No. 1 explores the harmonic field of D, gradually expanding from that starting point via gradations of instrumental timbre. Intensity builds to a crescendo of dissonant sounds and then subsides, forming an arc of over 18 minutes in this recording. Quartet No. 2 does not rest in any tonal center, but contrasts chords marked "warm/hot" to those marked "cool/cold," as well as "masculine/feminine." The work moves through three movements over 16 minutes, with dance-like patterns in the first movement and calmer, chorale-like patterns in the central movement, producing a melody high in the cello which fights for survival in the third movement as the cello interacts exuberantly with the others until it suddenly dissipates. (Thanks to Arnold Whittall's liner notes for some of these details.) Quartet No. 3 (14'28) sounds markedly different from the first two, which share a roughly similar soundworld. Over its arc of development it is marked by passages of ghostly arpeggiations, murmurings, and tremolos, and the introduction of silences, or the subtraction of sounds, which gives the piece a more open and expansive feel than its predecessors.
The second disc includes the two most recent of Harvey's works for strings in reverse order. The String Trio (13'26) of 2004 is followed by one of Harvey's masterpieces, the String Quartet No. 4 with live electronics (31'42) of 2003. The Trio begins in a Bartok-like folk-music manner, and contrasts the pastoral/rustic to the sacred. It concludes in a forceful melodic passage. Given how soon after the 4th Quartet this piece was written, one can't help but think that it represented a break, a turn toward something lighter, after the sequence of four major string quartets, but it is a superb work.
I have not always been impressed with Harvey's use of electronics. "Madonna of Winter & Spring" for orchestra and synthesizers is excellent, but I think the electronics mars his 1982 "Bhakti," an extended cycle for chamber ensemble. For the most part I think his spectral explorations have been better realized with acoustic instrumentation. But with the 4th Quartet, he and his IRCAM collaborator Gilbert Nouno create a stunning synthesis of the strings and electronics, performed live by Nouno. The piece moves through five sections, "tracing the evolution of a 'personality' that achieves its fullest realisation in a final section where all four instruments climb to the ecstatic peak of what Harvey ... has called 'the paradise garden,' linking that image with another, of the Buddhist 'pure land' -- 'a state of mind beyond suffering where there is no grasping.'" In addition to the masterful use of electronics, including spatial movement that a good stereo or headphones is necessary to detect, the piece is dramatically punctuated by silences, underscoring the fragility and impermanence of that which is. In other words, this is an excellent Buddhist composition!
I should not have taken so long to review this 2009 set, it is among Harvey's best, along with the excellent NMC orchestral disc of 2008.
(verified purchase from Arkiv Music)