Winter & Winter

Though Irvine Arditti reportedly had qualms about tackling Fred Frith’s scores, his Arditti String Quartet is on top form on this 2-CD set, which comes with the usual elegant packaging we’re accustomed to with Winter & Winter. “Lelekovice”, which already featured on the Yorkshireman’s Quartets, was originally written for Iva Bittova and throughout its nine movements the clarity of Frith’s lines never gets blurred, maintaining the cohesion among the parts in the more Eastern-sounding sections and figuring as an analytical link to the harmonic purity to which the music invariably gravitates. “Tense Serenity”, for string trio and trombone (Uwe Dierksen), alternates pressure and calm by contrasting the sheer simplicity of melodic fragments. The ghost of a voice peeps at the musicians from behind the mysterious scented veil of the third movement, in which Rohan De Saram’s wait-for-it cello adds a scary touch to the mix, ironically underlined by the sounds of a radio in the silence. The second disc features Frith and William Winant’s guitars in three engrossing arrangements; the third part of “Allegory” is probably the most nostalgically charged moment of the whole set, its harmonic relationships establishing a direct connection with impressive emotional accents. “Stick Figures” for six guitars is a percussive and pretty minimal piece in which a misty mass of drones is punctuated by repeated hits in an increasingly intense pulsation brimming with unforeseen violence. The final “Fell” spirals down into the depression of a confused mind, its precipitating pseudo-canonic counterpoint blemished by Frith’s cries of desperation on the guitar. It’s a haunting conclusion to a rather dark record, like watching the Titanic orchestra re-emerge from the depths to play again, note heads and staves completely deformed by salt water.

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