AMN Reviews

AMN Reviews: Quatuor Bozzini – Phill Niblock: Baobab [Collection QB CQB 1924]; Simon Martin: Musique d’art [Collection QB CQB 1922]

Founded by the Bozzini sisters, cellist Isabelle and violinist Stéphanie, the eponymous Montréal-based string quartet has been a significant presence in Canadian new music since the early 2000s. The Bozzini’s two CDs, one each of works by US composer Phill Niblock and Québec’s Simon Martin, are the latest additions to a substantial catalogue of recordings of sound- and concept-based contemporary music.

Baobab presents two large-scale works by Niblock (b. 1933). Both pieces—Baobab, originally composed in 2011, and Disseminate, composed in 1998—were first written for orchestra and appear here as revised in 2017. By means of multi-track layering, they’ve been rearranged for string quartet multiplied times five. Both pieces are quintessential Niblock—thickly textured swarms of drones made up of microtones and moving timbres. Sustaining the requisite long tones undoubtedly is a challenge to the players’ physical stamina, but the sounds never falter.

For Musique d’art, a five-movement, hour-long work for string quintet by Martin (b. 1981), the quartet—which in addition to the Bozzini sisters includes violinists Alissa Cheung and Clemens Merkel—is joined by double bassist Pierre-Alexandre Maranda. Like Niblock’s two pieces, Musique d’art is centered on the development elongated chords, but with more variability of density, dynamics and rates of harmonic change. Pitches drop out and fade in; discordant tones come and go as the intervals between notes widen and narrow; bow articulations shift to introduce changes to timbre and to add complexity to the stacked overtones. Not all of this is about pitch relationships: while at times the quintet sounds like a robust, tuned and detuned tamboura, at other times their collective sound dissolves into harsh, grey noise and rough, unpitched textures. Martin set out to create a fecund dialectic of sound and music with the piece, and in that he has succeeded.

Daniel Barbiero

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