The Strad Issue: January 2013
Description: Confident accounts of the work of an Italian modernist
Musicians: Prometeo Quartet
Composer: Sciarrino

It’s easy for the strange, evanescent, half-heard micro-gestures of contemporary Italian composer Salvatore Sciarrino’s fragile music to sound cold and clinical – a catalogue of glistening sound effects with no story to tell. But in the hands of the accomplished Italian Prometeo Quartet, his eight works for the medium become vivid aural tales, full of wit and vibrant life, yet ones that are realised with astonishing precision.

The Sei quartetti brevi in fact bring together the late composer’s first six quartets, written from 1967 to 1992, each one brief and based around a single idea. No.2, for example, conjures a beguiling texture of skittering harmonics, pizzicatos and whistling portamentos, and no.4 explores a sequence of fragile, whispering tremolo glissandos. Despite the pieces’ aphoristic nature, the Prometeo’s performances are muscular and full of drive, delivered with glowing confidence and a real feeling for the musical arguments behind the effects.

In the longer Seventh Quartet, the foursome expertly navigates the unpredictable, ever-changing textures, and the players’ sheer control of pitch and tone – especially in the piece’s expansive glissandos – is remarkable. Their performance of the Eighth Quartet is almost playful, its stuttering rhythmic unisons delivered with panache. These are high-definition performances, but ones that also look deep inside the music. Recorded sound is generous and crystal-clear.