No, not that Francisco Guerrero; instead of the Renaissance polyphonist, we have here the “Spanish Xenakis.” Before his premature death in 1997 at the age of forty-six, Guerrero honed a relentless style of clouds of harsh attacks and spiraling glissandi, controlled by quasi-mathematical fractal patterns and combinatoric logic. The result can sound quite like the music of his Greek predecessor, without the brutal square rhythms or distinctive “sieve”-based harmony. This is music of great physical energy, grit and wiry strength, based on movements of gesture and register, of vertical and horizontal masses twirling and colliding. Composed between 1983 and Guerrero’s death fourteen years later, it is also a running chronicle of the composer’s mature (and maturing) style.
It should come as no surprise that most of this cycle of eight pieces for string trio or quartet (or, in the case of the lengthy Zayin VI, solo violin) was written for the Arditti Quartet, who are masters of “physical energy, grit and wiry strength.” The venerable ensemble (recording in 1997 and 1998, and thus sharing only first violinist Irvine Arditti with the quartet that bears his name in 2006) tears through these pieces with abandon, maximizing contrasts and sparing nothing in their quest for ruthless vigor. Resin is audible, glissandi are torn into until they turn into moans and screeches, and the lowest strings of the four instruments growl with a feverish intensity.
It is not all violence and blood; there are a profusion of lyrical moments in this sixty-six minute cycle, and Zayin V in particular, with its mutes and emphasis on the high registers, comes as close to gentleness as Guerrero ever gets. All in all, though, this is a bracing experience, the sort of writing that is right in the sweet spot of the Ardittis’ preferences and capabilities.
I’m not sure why Jerry sent me this disc for review; it was released more than six years ago and is not widely available (although, at the moment, it is on offer from a couple private sellers on Amazon). I was glad for the chance to hear it, though, and if hearing the Arditti Quartet in repertoire that was written for them in every possible sense of the phrase is your thing, you will be too.