The now famous line "I've got blisters on my fingers" exclaimed by John Lennon at the end of Helter Skelter off the Beatles' White Album, could very well apply here to any of the members of the Parker Quartet after they've gone through some of the manic fingerwork needed to perform these impressive 20th century string quartets written by the great Hungarian composer György Ligeti (1923-2006). Two chamber works that very well trace the evolution of that century.
The String Quartet No. 1 (Métamorphoses nocturnes) from 1954, is structured and laid out in a rather traditional fashion, and is well unified from start to finish by the periodic return of the four note motif heard right at the beginning. It is the constant inclusion of that interesting motif, sometimes in camouflage, that makes for a fascinating piece of music. The tentative and unsettled moods of this quartet are very well put across by the Parker Quartet. The String Quartet No. 2, composed fourteen years later is much more abstract. Ligeti's musical language has evolved very rapidly to become more technical, more nervous, more impatient with the times, and sometimes delivered with a savage energy that knows no limits. The loud unison pizzicato note that opens the first movement will give you a serious jolt if you have the volume jacked up. Allegro nervoso, Come un meccanismo di precisione, Presto furioso e brutale, those are but some of the tempo markings for the different moods within this quartet and are self-evident of the constant activity and momentum of this work which is one of the best examples of modern chamber music. Now travel back to 1950 and the Andante and Allegro will strike you as a much more idyllic piece of music, very reminiscent of Ralph Vaughan Williams for example, and a work from a completely different world than the 2nd quartet.
The musicians that comprise the Parker Quartet are simply amazing. They play with a commitment and level of energy rarely encountered. For a young ensemble, they play with a maturity and assured emotional control usually common to only more established groups. They expose the context of the music admirably well, and deliver a sound that grabs your immediate attention and doesn't let go. The Naxos recording was captured in a church and creates the perfect ambience for this music.