- String Quartet No. 3
- String Quartet No. 4
- String Quartet No. 5
- String Quartet No. 6 (Serenade)
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There is an old saying among musicians that "Those who can, do it, and those who can't, teach." One might take that a step further and state that those who can neither do it nor write criticism. Whatever degree of truth there might be to these maxims, they do not apply to English composer Adrian Jack, who has worked extensively as a critic and producer for the BBC for close to four decades. In semi-retirement, Jack carefully built a sizeable list of works since the mid-'80s, among them a cycle of string quartets that have the same weight, seriousness, and immediacy as those by Bartók and Schoenberg. These quartets are so good that one is afraid to praise them too highly and therefore risk robbing the composer of his ability to continue producing them! This Deux-Elles disc, Adrian Jack: String Quartets, is performed by the ensemble that has enthusiastically premiered most of these works: the Arditti String Quartet. The disc contains his third through sixth string quartets, dating from 1996 to 2006, in addition to a single, foreboding movement, "08.02.01," which Jack composed for a concert on that date but was unable to place into a larger context; the movement stands as it is. While it would be relatively easy to relate Jack's style to external influences, they seem fully assimilated into these quartets, which bear the twin hallmarks of originality and discipline. Jack is never in a hurry to move events along as is so common in contemporary music; he is willing to take his time, step back, and ensure that a natural, logical flow in the music is a constant. By turns, these quartets are whimsical, folk-like, rigorously intellectual, serenely beautiful, enigmatic, mysterious, and always engaging. The only piece that puts up a question mark is "08.02.01," which Jack admits is something of a mystery even to him. However, its traumatized, tense mood is not out of place in the context of the whole and helps create a buffer between the seascape-like conclusion of the "Fourth Quartet" and the diaphanous, yet cosmopolitan atmosphere of the opening of the "Fifth." All right; in allowing for a couple of comparisons for those who cannot pick up the gist of Jack's quartets from the admittedly vague description above, we'll say that if you like the quartets of John Cage or some of Gavin Bryars' chamber music, you'll definitely like this. Bear in mind, though, that these comparisons are superficial and not particularly apt -- Jack in possession of his own musical voice, and this Deux-Elles disc is an eloquent testimony to the high level of artistry and communication that he has so patiently developed.