One of Wolfgang Rihm’s artistic heroes is the French writer, thinker and (eventually) lunatic Antonin Artaud, famous for his reformulation of modern drama as a Theatre of Cruelty. Artaud wrote that he wanted to restore to the theatre ‘a passionate and convulsive conception of life’, and there is no better description of Rihm’s Tenth Quartet (1993/97). Its form unfolds as you listen, strong and original and self-generating, a pizzicato skeleton, a juddering to a life conditioned by Renaissance musical formulas, and a long, possibly peaceful, coming to terms with the energy expelled thus far.
Quartet no.12 (2000/01) and the study (2003/04) demand and reward a little less. They have moved far from the expressionism of the first quartets and yet run, haunted or hunted, in its shadow. Never do their continuous spans alight for rest, yet they never relinquish the sense of an argument that the quartet medium so privileges.
This disc completes the first recorded cycle of Wolfgang Rihm’s string quartets (no.11 is unfinished). It has been a huge achievement for the Minguet Quartet, which now deserves to be considered among the front rank of younger quartets – though the four players have been together for 15 years, and it shows. Through all four discs they have proved themselves far more successful at elucidating Rihm’s narratives than the booklet-note writers. Don’t be misled by the plethora of acoustic stratagems – this is music with a story, and the members of the Minguet tell it with total confidence in themselves and the notes in front of them.