While definitely more transparent and smoother around the edges than this composer’s other recent recording, Tam Lin , this reading by Quatuor Bozzini of Martin Arnold’s work is equally brilliant, articulating his amblingly weightless melodies with clean precision. The sober and delicate performance allows Arnold’s unique talents as a string composer to speak with utter clarity, coaxing subtly exotic resonances from the instruments without foregrounding conspicuous extended techniques.
The four works presented here are paradoxically richly hued in their evocation of a variety of instruments—lute, hurdy gurdy, viols, reeds—while still remaining somehow elusive and monochromatic. The hushed opener, contact; vault, is a hovering string of osseous whispers, made from gently percussive plucking, breathy col legno tratto, and limpid harmonics. Slew & Hop, for only viola and cello, hints timbrally and harmonically at folk and Renaissance musics, yet dangles in Arnold’s signature fragmented stasis. The opaque chromaticism of Liquidambars belies the far more translucent instrumental tone occurring throughout. The titular piece Aberrare (Casting) resides in Arnold’s hollow, open-harmonic world, accentuated by the broad warm tones of the ensemble.
Perhaps the aforementioned paradox of colour can be attributed to the sensitivity of Quatuor Bozzini, which is more than well-acquainted with a diverse range of new chamber composition. Wisely, they steer clear of instilling a false sense of progression, and avoid imposing unnecessarily effusive phrasing. Instead, they allow the music to breathe and to linger, rather stubbornly, in its long and sufficiently hypnotic moments.