NMC and Wigmore Hall’s latest collaboration is a winner

Piatti Quartet, Bozzini Quartet, Heath Quartet: Bracing Change 2

The Strad Issue: May 2023

Description: NMC and Wigmore Hall’s latest collaboration is a winner

Musicians: Piatti Quartet, Bozzini Quartet, Heath Quartet

Works: Grime: String Quartet no.2. Newland: difference is everywhere (altered). Turnage: Contusion

Catalogue number: NMC NMCD242

Bracing Change 2 

Bracing Change was the title devised for the Wigmore Hall and NMC’s first CD collaboration on new works for strings, released in 2017. Returning to that name for the earlier disc’s follow-up post-pandemic brings a whole new set of connotations, ones most directly conveyed here in Helen Grime’s urgent, volatile String Quartet no.2, written not only during Covid lockdowns, but also before and after the birth of Grime’s second son. The result is music of struggle, sometimes violence, but also hard-won luminosity in its closing movement, all of which the Heath Quartet captures magnificently in its purposeful, bracing account.

Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Sylvia Plath-inspired Contusion is no less intense, and at times considerably more harrowing, though it’s shot through with Turnage’s trademark jazzy lyricism, even if his surface sweetness seems perpetually about to fracture into raw despair. The Piatti Quartet players – named best performers of Contusion at the 2015 Wigmore Hall String Quartet Competition – give a superbly eloquent, passionate account, painfully fragile but still hard-edged.

Paul Newland provides complete contrast with his difference is everywhere (altered), which explores ideas of infinite variation in even superficially similar things, whether they’re leaves in a forest or the delicately balanced, Feldman-like harmonies that populate Newland’s sparse musical landscape. There’s a hypnotic quality that quickly draws you into his restrained, hushed sound world, and a moving sense of authenticity and imperfection to the gentle trembles, the rasp of bow on string and the minute pitch fluctuations of the Bozzini Quartet’s deeply human reading.

Recorded sound, however, is slightly but disconcertingly different between the three different venues.