November 2006

Arditti Quartet - Mexico: New Music for Strings
Mode 165
Format: CD
Released: 2006

by Mike SIlverton

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

Present-day classical music largely consists of two opposing categories. The bigger strives for accessibility -- the kind of thing American symphony orchestras commission in order to rejuvenate their dwindling, aging audiences, and which can often sound flaccid and stale, if not actually DOA.

The other category is an extension of Europe’s mid-century avant-garde. Rather than be dumbed down to a common-denominator comfort zone, it is a body of work that addresses music from various angles as an ongoing link in necessary development. It is often fascinating, sometimes exhilarating, and occasionally sublime. A recent reminder of where this slender thread has led comes, as no surprise, from a significant new-music label, Mode.

None of the five Mexican composers featured on New Music for Strings has adopted American directions, as set forth by John Cage, Morton Feldman, Lou Harrison, Steve Reich, et al. With the exception of Iván Naranjo, they have studied and lived abroad, and it shows. The best known, Hilda Paredes, resides in the UK. Her Uy u’tan (Listen to their language), for string quartet, is music of luminous beauty. Like Uy u’tan, Hebert Vázquez’s String Quartet No. 1 and Iván Naranjo’s Uno for string quartet partake of a "damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!" attitude. What at first may sound like impenetrable thickets of notes will, upon exposure, reveal individual distinction and nuance.

The program’s three quartets, performed by the Arditti with typical panache, differ substantially, yet share in their disdain of easy accessibility. Germán Romero’s Ramas, for amplified violin, and Rogelio Sosa’s Espamo fulgor, for violin and electronics, bedazzle just as much as the quartets.