One of the greatest gifts of the string quartet is its ability to explore the most intimate of soundworlds. The second of Jörg Widmann‘s string quartets (he’s composed a series of five), subtitled the ‘Chorale Quartet’, is a striking example of this, spending much of its time at the threshold of utterance.
Widmann makes it clear in the opening moments of the piece that there is something familiar, traditional & perhaps fundamental, lurking not far beneath the surface of the music. It emerges from the halting, sporadic notes that begin the work, broken & tainted by the quartet’s hesitance & microtonal inflections. This is almost as clear as it is able to become; much of the time it can barely be perceived beneath the network of near-silent gestures from which most of the work’s fabric is made. It’s a judgement call as to whether the players are working to defeat this latent material or whether it’s defeating them, but either way, the quartet’s demeanour is an uncomfortable one. Their hesitant notes occasionally get drawn-out into long, spindly threads, coated in barely audible shivers; but when they seek to be more assertive, the result is rude blurts, needle-sharp pizzicatos, grinding accents & dull surges. About a third of the way through, the quartet appears to grow, both in terms of substance & confidence, but a potentially strong cadential moment gets caught once again, quickly reduced to fragility. Read more