Like slabs of concentrated energy, Béla Bartók’s six string quartets are, with those of Beethoven, among the finest of the genre. The legendary Fourth is a passionate negotiation between folk heritage and written composition. Furious rhythmic ostinatos alternate with furtive and mercurial scherzos. At the heart of the (string) quartet, a slow signature movement reveals the typically Bartókian art of the ‘nocturn’, suspended in an anxious dream.
In the second part, Viennese composer Klaus Lang’s Sea of Despair unfolds its immobile, hypnotic, almost sticky harmony over 45 minutes, as first revealed by Ictus at Bayreuth in 2018. His textures for amplified quartet rival the art of the electronic ‘drone’, perhaps even surpassing it in their strangeness.
String quartet No. 4 in C Major, Sz. 91, 1928
The Sea of Despair, string quartet, 1995