- Movements (2) for string quartet
- String Quartet No. 2
- String Quartet No. 1 ("Métamorphoses nocturnes")
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György Ligeti left two proper string quartets; "No. 1," subtitled "Metamorphoses nocturnes," was written in 1953-1954 (a little after the "Six Bagatelles for wind quintet"), but not heard until 1957 when performed by the Ramor Quartet in Vienna. Ligeti's "Quartet No. 1" would sit around another three decades before getting a second hearing, but since then it has been recorded many times and comes close to entering the standard quartet literature. "No. 2" is already part of it, a very famous work belonging fully to Ligeti's mature period; it was commissioned by the LaSalle Quartet and first heard in Baden-Baden in 1969. The folksy, almost romantic Andante and Allegretto, elsewhere called "Two Movements for String Quartet," are very early Ligeti works dating from 1950; they have been recorded only once before, by the Arditti Quartet, in the first volume of the Ligeti Edition as begun by Sony while the composer still lived. This Naxos release, Ligeti: String Quartets Nos. 1 and 2, is the debut recording of the Parker Quartet, a group founded in 2002 and based in Boston; it is named after the Omni Parker House, a Boston landmark that has been in operation since 1855. One might wonder why this comparatively newly minted group would take on such a tough assignment as Ligeti's quartet literature for its first recording and it is mainly because it is a fearless, well-disciplined, and supremely confident quartet. Ligeti's music seems to appeal to the group's youthful impetuousness and the Parker Quartet has more than an ample amount of muscle, self control, and sensitivity to have mastered these highly dynamic and challenging twentieth century quartets. The "Second Quartet" is particularly difficult; there is a spot in the first movement Allegro nervoso where the quartet is already very busy playing rapid figures at a sub-pianissimo level and has to switch -- at a mere bar line's notice -- to fortissimo without essentially changing what notes are being played. The Parker Quartet performs this audio equivalent to a cinematic jump cut on a hairpin, and throughout the music is completely well elucidated with no fuss, no muss, expert precision, and a considerable flair for drama. The Parker Quartet brings the same level of care and attention to everything on the program, even the simpler and more modestly stated Andante and Allegretto that conclude the album. While not recorded as often as, say, Beethoven's late cycle of quartets, the full-length Ligeti quartets have gotten plenty of attention on disc, yet this Naxos release with the Parker Quartet seems just as good if not better than any of the other recordings that include both quartets. Doubtless the Parker Quartet is a group to keep an ear out for.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Ligeti only wrote two string quartets in his lifetime (regrettably), but both are superb examples of the form, in which the composer's unique synthesis of atonal and lyrical elements are on full and glorious display. The First String Quartet was written in 1953-54, when Ligeti's musical language was still evolving, and is unsurprisingly more traditional in form. Yet even at this early stage, his work betrayed his experimental nature. The melodic line, while highly accessible, proceeds in nervous, jagged fashion, engaging the listener emotionally while keeping him or her off balance intellectually. This characteristic duality would become more pronounced as Ligeti's art matured. The four movements alternate between moments of almost frenzied atonality with passages of heartbreaking lyricism and stillness. Also noteworthy is how Ligeti concentrates on the sound of each instrument, making the distinct tonal textures of violin, viola and cello integral elements of the musical narrative. The Second String Quartet is a much different and far more formidable animal, foregrounding the radical abstraction of its harmonic and rhythmic contours. A pronounced sense of restlessness and foreboding pervades the first four movements, with the threat (or promise) of a violent explosion at any moment. The writing has a muscular, at times brutal power. Yet for all its fierce experimentation, it's no less accessible than Ligeti's earlier, more conventional quartet, and the beatific serenity of the last movement is one of the most moving, if enigmatic, five minutes of music you're likely to come across.