Works for String Quartet and Electronics: Unconvincing at First Hearing.

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Haas, Stroppa, and Rusconi: Kairos Quartet, Experimental Studio des SWR, Hall Two, Kings Place, London, 7.4.2013 (MB)

Georg Friedrich Haas – String Quartet no.4 (2003)
Marco StroppaSpirali per quartetto d’archi ‘proiettato’ nello spazio (1987-88)
Roberto David Rusconi – String Quartet no.4, De imago (Materia) Sonora (2012, world première)

Wolfgang Bender, Stefan Haussler (violins)
Simone Heiligendorff (viola)
Claudius von Wrochem (cello)
Thomas Hummel, Simon Spillner (sound projection)

I wanted to enjoy this concert, but ultimately found that expectations exceeded reality. It is perfectly likely, of course, that I simply did not properly understand or even appreciate the works performed, all of which I was encountering for the first time. It is even possible that they may have been let down in performance, though I doubt it; insofar as I could ascertain, the players of the Kairos Quartet and the Südwestfunk Experimental Studio offered committed advocacy. Yet, on a first hearing, I cannot say that I was entirely convinced by two out of the three pieces for string quartet and electronics.

Georg Friedrich Haas’s Fourth String Quartet was, according to the programme, his first work to employ electronics; I had a slight sense that it might have been out of duty rather than powerful inclination; indeed, there seemed to be something rather dated about the practice, which though ‘live’, had an air of early, 1950s tape experiments rather than the first decade of the twenty-first century. Much of the first half of the work was a story of gradual transformation, though the pace of that transformation picked up somewhat with time. A surprisingly lyrical section, initiated by viola, offered some respite from what was beginning to sound merely grey. (Try to imagine electronic Hindemith Gebrauchsmusik.) Sections were clearly demarcated and, at least in retrospect, the work’s architecture was readily discernible, but drama tended to come from the ‘effect’ of the electronics rather than anything more intrinsic to the material. Or perhaps I was just missing the point.

Marco Stroppa’s Spirali plays, as its title suggests, with spirals in spatial form, as realised by electronics. It seemed to me a far more interesting work. Electronics sounded more integral to the experience, and from the very outset; the material itself, apparently derived from a latent chorale, also seemed to be of greater interest. There was certainly a greater sense of drama and of the material being in flux. One could even experience intensity simply from watching the sound engineers, let alone from hearing. The ‘involved’ quality of the music at some points, even if only coincidentally, might have been glancing back to Schoenberg’s quartet writing. There were, then, complexity, expressiveness, and complexity in and of expression, aided and furthered by ‘voices’ emanating from electronics. The magical conclusion might almost have been said to have possessed an air of spectralism.

Roberto David Rusconi’s De imago (Materia) Sonora also made fuller use of electronics, indeed arguably more so still, and again from the outset. Rusconi’s work, receiving its first performance, gave a strong sense of ‘landscape’, not necessarily as opposed to a journey through time, though not necessarily unopposed to it either. As with Haas’s work, however, the quartet as a whole sounded very sectional. Though full of incident, it was unclear to me quite how it all added up. Perhaps however, again, I was merely missing the point.

Mark Berry