It is almost 40 years since the Arditti Quartet arrived on the scene. Irvine Arditti, founder and first violin, looks back fondly to the time when they were “the young British quartet tackling challenging works which no one else could or wanted to play”. Their story is a prime example of how a group of musicians cannot just survive but prosper in the highly competitive world of chamber music if they are adventurous enough.
Alongside the other musical anniversaries this year, Arditti himself is turning 60. This recital was billed as a 60th birthday special and offered a classic programme by the quartet, with mostly recent works by an eclectic range of composers and the premiere of a new string quartet to seal the evening.
Fittingly, there was a big solo to start. Ferneyhough’s scaldingly aggressive Intermedio alla ciaccona has been closely associated with Arditti since its premiere in 1986 and, like other fearsomely difficult Ferneyhough works, is a tour de force. Arditti fought his way through to the close with exultant aplomb and then found well-deserved balm later with Cage’s murmuringly soft Eight Whiskus for solo violin.
It would hardly be thoughtful not to invite Arditti’s wife to the party and Hilda Paredes’s second quartet, Cuerdas del destino, proved to be the most immediately appealing work of the evening. Formally, it is structured with intricacy, using a small number of striking motifs, but it also works as pure sound – like an Amazon rainforest, with buzzing insects, fluttering wings, and multitudinous drops of rain in a tropical storm (not at all, it has to be said, Paredes’s own description).
There were more extreme contrasts in extracts from Francisco Guerrero’s epic Zayin cycle, mostly violent and intense, and Robert HP Platz’s Strings (Echo VII), mostly distant whispers, as the players echoed each other around the hall. Then the premiere of Akira Nishimura’s String Quartet No 5, “Shesha”, took the four players on a journey from high-octane concentration to a hard-won, inner calm. The work was written as a tribute to Irvine Arditti on his birthday and the quartet played it with impressive authority.