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Jack: String Quartets / Arditti String Quartet

Release Date: 03/13/2007 
Label:  Deux-elles   Catalog #: 1116   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Adrian Jack
Performer:  Rohan de SaramRalf EhlersGraeme JenningsIrvine Arditti
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Arditti String Quartet
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 58 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

First, a note on the composer: “Adrian Jack was born on March 16, 1943, and began composing, with a short set of variations for piano inspired by Beethoven, when he was 13. He studied piano, composition, and organ at the Royal College of Music and went on to study composition and electronic music at the State High School of Music in Warsaw. On returning to London he ventured into music journalism and lecturing at the Royal College of Music. Adrian was also director of an influential series called MusICA at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts, which showcased present–day music. Apart from six string quartets, Adrian Jack has written music for various combinations of instruments, three piano trios and many pieces for piano, piano duo, and Read more organ. A good deal of his music has been broadcast by BBC Radio 3.”

It was through those broadcasts that I got to know Adrian Jack’s music, and I was always impressed by it. Some of the pieces on this very welcome release I had heard, and some not. It makes a handsome collection, played with dedication by the Arditti Quartet, and the recording is excellent: immediate and truthful, involving the listener with the music and its performance.

Principal attractions of Jack’s music include clarity and communication; the ideas are strong and concisely developed, and there is melodic warmth that is vivid while remaining deep. All this can be heard in the early reaches of String Quartet No. 3, from 1996, music that reminds one of both Ravel (watchmaker’s precision) and Janá?ek (a glowing sense of narrative). The attention is held through rhythmic ingenuity and lyrical eloquence; the slow movement, placed third, is especially haunting.

Jack, a perceptive and erudite writer on music, for many years a music critic for The Independent newspaper (London), has penned his own booklet note for this release. In String Quartet No. 4 (1999), Jack was looking to compose something “purer . . . with simple ideas . . . texture, harmony, and motion are all important here.” A conversation, which seems to start in midsentence, ensues, one with a wide range of subjects, the “harmony” and the “argument” always interesting, and the veiled middle movement (of three) again being deeply expressive. The ecstatic lyricism of the finale recalls Tippett.

The pivotal work on the disc is 08.02.01 (February 8, 2001), the day that the Arditti Quartet played this and other works of Jack’s at a London recital, and it was also first-violinist Irvine Arditti’s birthday. This is a mysterious and tense piece; over its four-minutes duration, Jack invokes what might be described as Bartókian night music.

String Quartet No. 5 is also from 2000. The first movement is rhythmic, expressive, agreeable, warm, and both outgoing and intimate. The middle movement scurries, again like Bartók, and reaches a more plaintive “trio”; and the finale begins in edgy exuberance, a fractured dance that gives way, rather abruptly, to a more insistent—but again expressive—solo for the first violin, the three other musicians in support.

String Quartet No. 6 (2002), and given the epithet of Serenade, has five short movements, “a collection of character or genre pieces,” to quote the composer. Jack himself likens the first movement to “twittering birds,” and the rhythms become quite intoxicating by the close. The longest movement is Berceuse (marked Cool, which is straight out of the Tippett manual!) and quite dark in its insistence. The remaining movements include a second look at the Berceuse, from another angle—the two are separated by an energetic Scherzo—and the finale is called Prospect, music that flies high and in lucid terms: “I like to think that the distant horizon is viewed hopefully,” says the composer.

The booklet cover reproduces a painting by Eric Ravilious (who was killed in World War II); this is of Jack’s own choice. He cites Ravilious’s “simplicity and sophistication.” This is an apt description of Jack’s own music, and this release is heartily recommended to those who respond to any of the above-named composers and who appreciate description, fantasy, and ambiguity in their music. A couple of Web sites to mention: www.deux-elles.com and www.adrianjackmusic.com.

FANFARE: Colin Anderson
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Works on This Recording

Quartet for Strings no 3 by Adrian Jack
Performer:  Rohan de Saram (Cello), Ralf Ehlers (Viola), Graeme Jennings (Violin),
Irvine Arditti (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Arditti String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1993; England 
Quartet for Strings no 4 by Adrian Jack
Performer:  Irvine Arditti (Violin), Rohan de Saram (Cello), Graeme Jennings (Violin),
Ralf Ehlers (Viola)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Arditti String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1999; England 
Quartet for Strings no 6 "Serenade" by Adrian Jack
Performer:  Rohan de Saram (Cello), Irvine Arditti (Violin), Graeme Jennings (Violin),
Ralf Ehlers (Viola)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Arditti String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2002; England 
Quartet for Strings no 5 by Adrian Jack
Performer:  Irvine Arditti (Violin), Graeme Jennings (Violin), Ralf Ehlers (Viola),
Rohan de Saram (Cello)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Arditti String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2000; England 

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