HARRISON BIRTWISTLE (b.1934): String Quartet: The Tree of Strings, 9 Movements for String Quartet.
Catalogue Number: 06N083
Reference: AECD 1217
Description: Birtwistle turned to the quartet medium for the first time in his late 50s, and this hour of music remains his entire output for the ensemble (aside from a couple of mixed ensemble works) whose blended, homogeneous texture might seem at odds with the prevailing sound world of the composer's earlier works. It turns out, though, that his æsthetic translates very well into the medium. The cycle of nine pieces, written throughout the 1990s, possess all the angular abrasiveness that one would expect, alongside tough, ostinato-like pulse and heterogeneous material flung over very wide ranges of register. The brooding, shadowy subtext that has become more of a foreground feature of Birtwistle's recent works is very much in evidence here, especially in the movements called 'fantasia', of which there are five, alternating with 'friezes', of which the last is 'death fugue' after Celan. 2007's half-hour 'Tree of Strings' takes this powerfully atmospheric sense of looming shadow further still; the work takes its inspiration from the desolate Scottish island of Raasay, where the Scots poet Sorley MacLean was born. Arditti Quartet.