The Ligeti Quartet's verve and brilliance made for yet another absorbing concert as part of the University of Sheffield's concert series.
As the quartet's name implies, it is devoted to modern music and the concert opened with Béla Bartók's Fourth String Quartet, an influence on Ligeti's own efforts in the genre. It is probably the most aggressively modern of the six he wrote, having a range of extended techniques and only one slow movement.
There was a real muscularity to the group's sound throughout, beginning with the first movement, which sets the tone with its acerbic harmonies and rhythmic drive. After the athletic prestissimo, the nocturnal middle movement was delightfully eerie and mysterious.
So blazing was the allegro molto that it almost eclipsed the memory of the charming novelty of the preceding pizzicato-only dance.
George Nicholson's Fourth String Quartet followed. Nicholson's music is most certainly in the modernist camp, and like Bartók's music, there is a concern with maintaining a sense of line, alongside more gestural textures.
I found this work psychologically and structurally complex, each movement building on the last without being straightforwardly linear or sequential. My own preference was for the third movement: a dance-like scherzo which kept one guessing with its rhythmic shifts and frenetic dialogues between the instruments.
Alban Berg's Lyric Suite is perhaps the most exhausting of the pieces in terms of mood, if not technique. The piece is a tempestuous affair, an inspired musical representation of the composer's love affair with Hanna Fuchs-Robettin.
I had described the Lyric Suite before the concert to a friend, as 'full-on' and the quartet's rendition did not disappoint. Incisive and gutsy throughout, the opening movements brimmed with anguish and they found all manner of timbral subtleties in the third movement and, generally, the players were equal to this difficult (yet rewarding) music without ever succumbing to complacency.