Salvatore Sciarrino: String Quartets [Kairos 0013212KAI]
The context for this collection of string quartets by composer Salvatore Sciarrino is directly addressed in the excellent booklet accompanying the CD. In a set of reflections on the string quartet as a genre, the composer remarks that the quartet represents a convergence of intimacy of expression with the elevation of style. And that observation provides an excellent point of entry into the works presented here.
The single-movement Quartet No 7 begins the program, with an emphasis on the expressive as conveyed by an adaptation of more-or-less conventional technique. Sciarrino writes that the quartet arose from his long involvement with works for voice, and the characteristic sound here is decidedly that of the inflections and phrasing of the human voice. The piece is marked by generous use of glissandi and a balance of ranges which, taken together, produce passages that one could almost recognize as the distinct speech acts of asking, imploring, admonishing, etc. Quartet No 8, also a one-movement piece, features a parallelism of voices matching the violins’ high harmonics to the cello’s middle range. The 8th quartet’s emphasis on extreme high harmonics foreshadows the predominant sound of the six short quartets that follow. Like the 7th quartet these pieces, written between 1967 and 1992, often embody a vocal quality, whether in the dialogue-like phrasing in the first and second quartets, the prolonged shrieks passing from voice to voice in the third quartet, or the urgently “spoken” microtones of the fifth quartet. The cycle ends with a kind of quiet anticipation, which seems to correspond to Sciarrino’s thoughts on the survivability of art through historical continuity and interruption. The performances, by the Quartetto Prometeo, rise to the interpretive challenge this music undoubtedly poses.