Bozzini’s CD featuring these two masterpieces has already become a critically acclaimed recording. TIME SPANS brings the music live to New York City.
Prior to that the finale, the fourth Time Spans concert offered another profound conjunction of composer and string quartet: two works by Jürg Frey, performed by the Montréal-based Quatuor Bozzini. What JACK has been to American composers, the Bozzini — formed in 1999, and presently comprising violinists Clemens Merkel and Alissa Cheung, violist Stéphanie Bozzini, and cellist Isabelle Bozzini — has been to its Canadian kin: a force for steadfast advocacy, and a source of evident inspiration.
But neither JACK nor the Bozzini limits its scope strictly to music cultivated in its home soil. Here, the Canadian group championed music by a Swiss composer — one who is himself best known for his alliance to a loose-knit global confederacy of likeminded creators, the Wandelweiser Group.
A recording by Quatuor Bozzini of two Frey works, Unhörbare Zeit (2004-06) and String Quartet No. 3 (2010-12; arr. 2014), showed the ensemble’s extraordinary sympathy for this deceptively simple music, its compelling finesse in meeting Frey’s unorthodox demands. Issued by Edition Wandelweiser in 2015, the disc is an essential document.
Even so, hearing these pieces played live in Cary Hall’s conspiratorial acoustic proved revelatory. Each simple stepwise move and each subtle shift in timbre registered with oversize impact, even as players adhered faithfully to the hushed dynamics that both works demand.
Unhörbare Zeit (“Inaudible Times”) opened the program, the Bozzini players spread apart by a considerable span with two percussionists, Noam Bierstone and Isaiah Ceccarelli (also a composer worth noting), stationed at batteries equidistant behind them. Frey’s motifs are almost stark enough to render Adams baroque by comparison. Yet somehow, a simple shift from one chord accompanied by sounds of metal surfaces scraped deliberately to another fused with woolly bass-drum rolls took on an intensity you couldn’t have anticipated adequately. The music, as Frey had explained beforehand, is meant to evoke architectural space, but not to define perspective or confine imagination; here, an ideal balance was struck.
Frey’s quartet, for which the Bozzini players huddled into conventional configuration, is similarly spare, with dynamic markings that compel an almost untenable hush. Somehow, though, Frey’s slow, even sequence of chords struck, held, and ended assumes inexplicable qualities of moody incandescence. A single elongated chord that arrives roughly seven minutes in felt like an explosive epiphany; so, too, a grayish chord that rises from inaudibility at the 20-minute point, returns to silence, then tries repeatedly, unsuccessfully, to rise again before the music’s initial mode reasserts itself three minutes later.
I cannot imagine a listener being unmoved by this music, particularly when delivered by players capable of rendering its gestures with the unanimity of an accordion’s bellows and the naturalness of human breath. That this concert happened here was a gift; that it happened in an acoustically ideal space and with ample support from its presenter, even more so. Once again, meditative silence prefaced a well-deserved ovation.
On Friday, the Bozzini Quartet gave a program that is already represented on a recording, though when it comes to the frequently quiet and sparely organized work of Mr. Frey, the music’s presence in a concert hall can lend an extra degree of magic. With the Bozzini players and two percussionists stranded at far edges of the resonant DiMenna hall, the repeating motifs from Mr. Frey’s 2006 piece Unhörbare Zeit (“Inaudible Time”) sounded unusually lavish. Even better was his String Quartet No. 3, written in 2014. Though the work is as superficially reserved as Mr. Frey’s other pieces, it takes flight in surprising ways. Toward the end, a brief viola solo attained a moody grandeur worthy of the late Romantics.