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CRISTOBAL HALFFTER - String Quartets Vol. 1 - Arditti Quartet - 8424562330054 - Anemos 33005

The Arditti Quartet are known for jumping in the ring and taking on any and all newcomers, regardless of the challenge. The very long list of chamber works from modern composers that they have performed and recorded is impressive. I might be wrong, but I don't think they have recorded any music pre-dating 1900. They specialize in modern or "new" music, premiering many compositions, and have in fact had many new works written for them. They could even be considered freelance artists, free to explore recording avenues as they please, evidenced by the fact that their long list of recordings span over 25 different labels including Kairos, Mode, NMC and Albany just to name a few. So it is not surprising to see them on a CD from the new label Anemos, an enterprising new label from Spain, whose mandate is to focus on modern Spanish composers, entering the market with an initial launch of 6 recordings.

The challenging music the Arditti Quartet have chosen to conquer this time around, is a series of String Quartets by the Spanish composer Cristobal Halffter (1930-), nephew of both Rodolfo and Ernesto Halffter, also composers. The first work on the CD is the Three Pieces for String Quartet from 1955. A string quartet if not by name, as it is laid out in sonata form and as per tradition, written as an ensemble work. It requires pinpoint timing from all four players at all times, a lyrical approach in the slow middle movement, and tight and energetic cooperation and ensemble playing in the final Allegro. It is rather formal and even contains moments of evocative beauty during the short middle Adagio. The String Quartet No. 3 (1978) on the other hand is a different story. Many changes have taken place over 20 years. This work is all over the map with moments where each instrument seems to have complete individual freedom of movement, including dynamics and tempo, and other moments where all four have to focus and play as a group. In other words it is organized chaos, and demands the utmost attention to detail from all concerned over its 21 minute duration. The final work in this recording, the String Quartet No. 6 from 2002, is even more chaotic but also even more true to the quartet genre by involving the players as an ensemble again. This time around its the tight communication between the four instruments that is the challenge, with many moments of rhythmic complexity that would bring lesser musicians to their knees. And for a very modern and harmonically free work, it has an extended slow middle section of rare and odd beauty. This is not dinner table on a Sunday evening type of music - but then if it was, the Arditti Quartet would not have even stepped into the ring.

So there you have it. Another knockout trophee on the Arditti Quartet's mantle and a brand new label to encourage creative new composers to step forward. The presentation from this label is impeccable. The CD is housed in a jewel case sized hard cover book, with extensive and instructive notes shedding light on the music's complexity. The future of music is more promising than it seems.

Jean-Yves Duperron - July 2010