BRIAN FERNEYHOUGH (b.1943): Complete Works for String Quartet & Trio - 24 Sonatas for String Quartet, String Quartets Nos. 2-6, Adagissimio, Streichtrio, String Trio, Dum transisset I-IV, Exordium.
Catalogue Number: 05P100
Reference: AECD 1335
Description: The string quartet is the one genre to which Ferneyhough has consistently returned throughout his career, in no small part due to the unfailing advocacy of various incarnations of the Arditti Quartet, who have premiered every quartet since the second, repeatedly demonstrating the playability of Ferneyhough's meticulously notated micro-intervals and minutely subdivided cross-rhythms. This set is thus essential for a number of reasons for any admirer of the unapologetic doyen of modernism, especially as it allows a succinct way to chart the composer's developing preoccupations over almost a half-century. The little 'sonatas' date from 1967 - there is an earlier quartet from 1963, in manuscript and presumably now disowned by the composer - and consist of a series of twenty-four sub-units which explore the ramifications of some basic material in various textures, instrumentation and cross-referenced transformation. Groupings of thess sub-units within the whole may be considered as 'movements'. The material is not of the level of complexity or instrumental virtuosity of the later works, though nothing about it constitutes 'easy' listening. The Second Quartet (1980) is far further along the path of the spinning of complex webs of instrumental sound characteristic of the composer's mature work. The work's complex surface textures of simultaneously presented material tend toward a stillness at the heart of the work, following a labyrinthine path to attain their goal. The Third Quartet is a good deal less conventional still, its two movements charting a psychologically complex process. The first movement is fragmented, self-contradictory, consisting of complex hidden patterns, while the second is a furious flood of activity, fiendishly technically demanding and establishing a sense of momentum and direction through the shifting perspectives of different layers of simultaneous material constantly passing between foreground and background. The Fourth Quartet consists of four movements, two of which involve a soprano soloist (here singing Jackson Mac Low's 'reductive deconstructions' of Pound's Pisan Cantos), thus linking it to Schoenberg's ground-breaking Second String Quartet. The kaleidoscopically evolving textures re-examine the preoccupations of the Schoenberg, and almost a century of their implications and reactions to them - setting up a variety of conflicts and oppositions between musical and linguistic expression, and indeed, between different modes of musical discourse. The first vocal movement contains an intriguing and highly original idea; by locking the voice into rhythmic unison with varied fragments of instrumental material much of the time, a strange emulation of a kind of elctroacoustic effect is achieved, whereby only the transient presence of the voice seems to allow the quartet music to emerge into audibility. By contrast, interaction between voice and instruments is denied in the last movement, an interesting philosophical conclusion. String Quartet No.5 deals, in a very modern sense, with the idea of 'variation', superimposing and juxtaposing three distinct sets of material, setting up a simultaneous dialogue in which the materials' autonomy is increasingly subverted, somewhat analogous to the tendency of conventional variations increasingly to depart from the original theme through greater transformative freedom. The effect here is of ever greater compression, the material forced together as though by some external pressure until a new form or structure of matter is created. Dum transisset I - IV is explicitly based on viol consort music by the Renaissance composer Christopher Tye, and reflects the composer's concern with historical material around the time of composition of his stage work Shadowtime. The four movements present the accretion of material around fragmentary elements of the original, or distortions of it, with recognisable ghostly apparitions of Tye's music appearing intermittently. Quartet No.6 of 2010 deals with the composer's recent consideration of the question of the perception of temporal space in the presence of music. The work's brief fragments of varied texture and motif overlap and telescope one into another, creating an immensely complex and unpredictable web of conflicting material and time frames. The substantial String Trio (1995) is notably different in intent and form from the quartet, acknowledging the historically distinct lineage of the genre from the discursive, developmentally oriented quartet. Overall, the work is more freely rhapsodic, with suggestions of a variety of traditional forms, and a greater emphasis on instrumental solos emerging from the texture than is generally the case in the quartets. A listener unused to the extreme complexity of Ferneyhough's style might well find this work a surprisingly accessible gateway to the composer's idiom, suggesting a degree of emotional familiarity, so to speak, despite its post-tonal vocabulary and extensive use of microtones. 3 CDs. Claron McFadden (soprano - String Quartet No. 4), Arditi Quartet.