Arditti disappoints after great start

Music review

November 09, 1991|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

COLUMBIA -- How valuable an institution the Arditti String Quartet is was demonstrated by its first selection last night in the Candlelight series at Smith's Auditorium at Howard Community College. That no other quartet plays difficult 20th century music so lucidly and persuasively was obvious in the way it performed Webern's "Five Pieces for String Quartet, Opus 5."

This is great music that never seemed forbidding.

The third piece lasted barely a minute. But in that minute, the Ardittis -- violinists Irvine Arditti and David Alberman, violist Garth Knox and cellist Rohan de Saram -- suggested that pound for pound the Webern, with its pouncing pizzicatos, is the equal of a great Beethoven scherzo.

The quartet was always attentive to the work's pointillistic textures. The fourth movement, with three of its players producing eerie sounds on the bridge and the fourth on the fingerboard, could not have been more perfect.

Sadly, the rest of concert did not live up to this beginning.

Beethoven's "Grosse Fugue," while not a disaster, came close.

The playing was out of tune, rhythms were slack and the ensemble -- the cellist seemed to be on downers and his three colleagues on uppers -- was not what one expects from this quartet.

The newest work on the program, Iannis Xenakis's "Tetora" (1990), was mostly a bore.

The title is a translitteration of "four" in ancient Greek and the composer plays with the idea of fourness. Breaking the instruments into various groups -- often in antiphonal clusters -- until they are united at the end playing the same (interminable) block chords.

But the Xenakis was a masterpiece compared to the final work, Alexander von Zemlinsky's Quartet No. 2 with its ecstatic sighs and erotic whimpers (and its 40 minute length), this was post-romanticism at its worse.

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