AMN Reviews: Antoine Beuger – Cantor Quartets

Antoine Beuger: Cantor Quartets [at62x2]

Antoine Beuger’s Cantor Quartets, a composition consisting of fifteen pages, would seem to concern themselves with the three fundamental musical elements pitch, duration and density. The work’s structure is fairly transparent: Four musicians play from a score in which individual pages contain four lines of seven notes each; each note—of an octave of the musician’s choosing–is to be played for a long duration. The piece begins with the first musician playing the first line solo; when he or she begins the second line the second player begins with the first line, creating a duet; when the second player begins the second line the third musician begins the first line, forming a trio; when the third musician begins the second line, the final musician begins the first line, to end the piece as a full ensemble. The performance captured on this two-disc set covered four of the fifteen pages, with each page’s realization being represented by a 30-minute-plus track.

The quartets are realized here by the fine ensemble of Jürg Frey (clarinet), Sarah Hughes (e-bowed zither), Dominic Lash (double bass), and Radu Malfatti (trombone). The ensemble represents the full range of pitches, from lowest to highest. Additionally, it’s evenly balanced between strings and winds, which brings out the subtle differences in the instruments’ mechanisms for maintaining long-duration pitches. These differences are further reflected in the way that the sequence of instruments is rearranged from track to track: Quartet I’s sequence is trombone-zither-double bass-clarinet; Quartet II’s is clarinet-double bass-trombone-zither; Quartet III’s is double bass-trombone-clarinet-zither; and Quartet IV’s is zither-clarinet-trombone-double bass. The approach throughout is expressively neutral, which helps focus attention on the sounded notes as things in themselves. In addition, the call for long duration tones brings out the peculiar characteristics of each instrument’s way of producing sound: The steadiness of tone of Hughes’s e-bowed zither contrasts with the other instruments’ slight variances of tone as brought on by fluctuations of breath and bow pressure. From the simple building blocks of individual pitches played one at a time, unisons and harmonies of different durations and degrees of consonance appear and disappear. The composition’s additive structure, together with the performers’ choices of how long to hold any given pitch, ensures that the density of sound will shift, sometimes unpredictably, throughout the performances.