Irvine Arditti’s specialism in contemporary music is well known and defines his contribution to present-day violin playing. It is often said that, by commissioning such works and presenting them via attractive programming (often setting a new work alongside a Beethoven quartet, for example), his Arditti Quartet saved the string quartet as a compositional medium in the latter half of the twentieth century, it being considered outmoded by modernist composers.
Arditti’s training was at London’s Royal Academy of Music and it was there that he established his Quartet. Although he would have been well acquainted with traditional repertoire as a student, Arditti’s musical language has become modernist and experimental to the extent that he looks backwards to the Second Viennese School, whereas the majority of artists would approach serialism and later experimental music in the light of several hundred years of tonal composition.
Thus No. 7 from Berg’s student compositions 9 Short Pieces (2003) evidences the most conventional sound-world of Arditti’s solo recordings. Here he demonstrates a breadth and warmth of tone representative of the mainstream tradition of the second half of the twentieth century. A deeply-coloured sound is heavily reliant upon powerful, wide vibrato, but it is notable that Arditti does not sugarcoat his renditions otherwise. Consequently, Webern’s exquisite 4 Pieces (1994) are delivered with fine control over the myriad subtle manipulations of tone and sound demanded by the composer. The Ferneyhough and Nancarrow examples here have great energy and commitment. The Nancarrow (2007) is dependent upon the super-human piano virtuosity made possible by the player-piano, and Arditti’s (human!) violin playing interweaves with utter technical confidence in an impressive display of virtuosity. The Ferneyhough is a denser and larger-scale work in all ways and here Arditti’s handling of colour, texture and rhetorical declamation is notable. Xenakis’s Mikka for solo violin (1991) is also a convincing portrayal of the composer’s trademark shapes and gestures. Berio’s Sequenza VIII (2009) is presented in an innovative programme comprising 17th-century sonatas by Biber interspersed with small works by Berio—both composers who were considered avant-garde in their own day.
Arditti’s concentration upon repertory still seen as esoteric and specialised (and likely to remain so) is enough to guarantee inclusion in any list of important musicians, but the aplomb and confidence with which he delivers it also testifies to a powerful musical intelligence and a formidable technical mastery.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Milsom (A–Z of String Players, Naxos 8.558081-84)