CRISTOBAL HALFFTER: 3 Pieces; 3. Quartet; 6. Quartet – Arditti Quartet – Anemos

CRISTOBAL HALFFTER: 3 Pieces; 3. Quartet; 6. Quartet – Arditti Quartet – Anemos 33005, 55:31 [Distr. by Allegro] ***:

I didn’t like this much, and I am not going to pretend I did. This is down-home, driven Darmstadt doodling in my book, though I am sure that this comment short-changes a talent like Halffter’s, misdirected in my opinion though it is. The composer, born in 1930, was one of the Spanish “bridge” composers called upon after the Spanish civil war to create a union of purpose with the rest of compositional Europe, using a number of techniques involving serialism, electro-acoustical, and random properties that make talking about it an exercise in abstruseness as if one were speaking of anything but music.   

But Halffter is arguably the most important Spanish composer of his generation, and his Piano Concerto won a national prize in 1953. While he is not especially prolific, his works are definitely events in and of themselves, and he is one of the remaining living icons of the middle-20th century avant-garde. As such it is difficult to dismiss his music, and one can never make assumptions when speaking of composers whose artistic gestation started at this time period. But—but—it is not easy music to assimilate, even though we hear hints of formal structure and even in some pieces a certain rhythmic pattern that seems to have either been influenced by or influenced minimalism, though the composer would probably laugh at that idea. But personally I find little in these pieces – even though they span nearly 50 years – to attract me, and the overall impression is one of harshness and discord.

I cannot fault the recording, which is superb, nor the Arditti Quartet, the LaSalle Quartet of our time who’s playing makes the best possible case for these thorny pieces. Those more adventurous than me (and I am pretty adventurous) might find some solace in this music. Others should proceed very carefully.

— Steven Ritter

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