AMN Reviews: The Quatuor BRAC – Hall des Chars [Blumlein Records CD-A026]

quatuorbrac3Traditionally, the string quartet is an ensemble optimized for contrapuntal music. But whereas the more conventional string quartet trades in a counterpoint of melodic line, the Quatuor BRAC trades in a counterpoint of timbre.

The Quatuor BRAC is a multinational group made up of violinist Tiziana Bertoncini (Vienna); violist Vincent Royer (Cologne); cellist Martine Altenburger (St. Silvain-sous-Toulx); and double bassist Benoit Cancoin (Trévoux). Hall des Chars, recorded 13 May 2014 in Strasbourg, is their second release. Like their first recording, this one consists of a single improvised live performance of substantial length.

The quartet’s vocabulary is that of contemporary art music for strings—chromatic lines, wide leaps of register, microtones, harmonics and drones, informed by a fluent grasp of extended technique in all of its nuances. The collective sound that emerges consists in an always-changing texture that reflects the group’s intuitive sense of balancing and contrasting densities and dynamics. Thick chords contributed to by all four members at once may give way to a silence barely broken by sotto voce harmonics and the swoop of the bow on dampened bass strings; pressured circular bowing on muted strings may overlap with the sound of strings tapped quietly with the tip of the bow. Underlying it all is a finely-accomplished timbral counterpoint wherein traditional note-against-note polyphony is largely supplanted by the placing of sounds selected for their color properties rather than their pitches. Central to the success of this approach is the ability of each player to create a continuity of line in tandem with or in contrast to the others; even during the most highly saturated passages the unique grain of each voice is maintained, no matter how modified it may be by unorthodox modes of sound production.

A fine excursion into twenty-first century counterpoint.