Any new work by Brian Ferneyhough is a milestone. The Arditti Quartet, who have worked with the composer for nealy 30 years, introduced his String Quartet no 6 at Donaueschingen late last year, so this Wigmore Hall recital was much welcomed. Seventeen years elapsed between Ferneyhough's Fourth String Quartet and his Fifth, premiered by the Ardittis at Aldeburgh in 2006. Only four years later, Ferneyhough's again breaking new ground. The energetic sense of adventure is still there but textures are more transparent. A whirlpool of tiny fragments, scattering skittishly in multiple directions. Brief clearing, and brief moments when the four players are playing in confluence. There's a wonderful slow passage which Irvine Arditti plays so expressively that you hold your breath in wonder.
Ferneyhough (always worth quoting) says that the idea of this multiplicity was to "create an unpredictable tangle of conflicting materials and time frames....leading to a sort of mirrored or negative hierarchy of material". Listen for yourself,. It's hard to take in all at once, but it's so intriguing it pulls you in.
Dai Fujikura's Flame (2010) is a Wigmore Hall commission. It employs similar ideas of small fragments, flying, combining and separating. Big, percussive pizzicato beginning, dying down for a moment when the players strum their instruments for resonance. Almost romantic and very visual. Fujikawa remembers watching a campfire as a child, seeing flames rise and embers fall. "The composition" he says "evolves into a slow motion arco rendering of the pizzicato and its reverse. The audience loved this - new music isn't frightening when approached with this sense of adventure.
Hilda Paredes' Canciones Lunáticas (2009) are based on three poems about the moon by Pedro Serrano. The piece begins with low, windlike emanations from the strings, for the first song depicts the moon suffering, unprotected in "the slaughterhouse of the heavens" as it crosses over "a landscape laid waste". The second song describes los lunáticas , "the moonstruck" who have to be locked away so they don't wander off beguiled. The last song is a tantalising miniature, where the moon, having "broken free", dances "sola en el prado".
Surreal and otherworldy : ideal for countertenor, though I think it might be transposed for soprano. The piece was written for Jake Arditti, so perhaps the family tradition will continue. Just as the string players use many techniques, so does the singer. At one stage he puts his finger in his mouth to make round, whirring sounds, immediately replicated by strings. The effect is quite amazing. A voice, after all, is a wind instrument! Many sibilants in the vocal line, stretched and sharpened so they cut. Voice as percussion? Small tight vocal outbursts like pizzicato, a big, arching "O" like the sound of a cello.
The recital began with James Clarke's String Quartet no 2 (2009). It was a good choice, as the piece introduces some of the ideas that appear in later works, but is readily accesssible. In most other programmes it would have impressed but Ferneyhough is simply in another vstratosphere bfrom anyone else.
Please note, there's A Ferneyhough Total; I,m,mersion at the Barbican in March. Also an important Kurtag Focus at the Wigmore Hall in February. I've been to the first part and will write more on Sunday.