Nante | Saunders | Beethoven
“Eternally contemporary”: That is how Igor Stravinsky characterized Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge. Indeed, it is one of the craziest and most challenging works in quartet literature: the way Beethoven fuses fugue and variation techniques here, fragmenting the themes into probing motifs and radically exhausting the possibilities of counterpoint so that “the instruments have to struggle with tremendous difficulties, as if traversing the North and South Poles, criss-crossing with a myriad of dissonances” – this music continues to awaken either amazed wonder or baffled dismay to this day. In 2017, composer-in-residence Rebecca Saunders was no less eager to experiment with the string quartet genre: “A melody, think Bach” she notes above the first bars of Unbreathed. But of course it is not simply a melody that is heard. Rather, it is a fascinating excursion into sonority that initially revolves around the note D and allows the sound to wander through the instruments, coloring it microtonally and constantly extracting new facets through detailed instructions as to which string to play on, with or without vibrato, completely or only half on the bridge.