Keller Quartett - Cantante e tranquillo - ECM 2324



For Cantante e tranquillo Keller Quartett leader András Keller and producer Manfred Eicher developed a carefully balanced program based entirely upon slow movements from a wide range of works from different eras. Across the centuries, beyond generic boundaries and the lives of their creators, the movements reveal remarkable similarities of expression that perhaps only become apparent in this new context.

At the same time the selection documents the quartet's 20-year collaboration with ECM and its growing maturity. Its performances invariably approach the works with integrity and an imaginative power rooted in close listening and subtle interaction. More recent readings of Beethoven's op. 130 and 135 have been augmented with fresh recordings of György Kurtág and combined into an album with older and newer renditions of Alexander Knaifel, György Ligeti and Johann Sebastian Bach.

But there is another feature that unites the works and movements beneath the heading 'Cantante e tranquillo' (an expression mark from Beethoven's F-major String Quartet, op. 135): a sense of the ineffable. Music history knows few compositions more enigmatic in their essence than Beethoven's late quartets.

Johann Sebastian Bach's Art of Fugue has likewise kept its secrets to the present day. Is there anything more astonishing, and yet more consummately wrought, than this opus summum that resists all speculation? As late as 1993 Peter Schleuning could write of Bach's late magnum opus that 'the history of The Art of Fugue is a history of solitude, of quests and discoveries, of experimentation and research – and of failure. The work grew old with Bach and died with him.' Yet scholars and performers alike have remained vitally alive to The Art of Fugue.


A prime example is the present quartet arrangement of several of its numbers. In any event, the part-writing of the four instruments almost has the character of a musical analysis, much like Anton Webern's arrangement of the Bach Ricercar.

Bach, to quote Alfred Einstein, was a rock on which many composers have built their works, including Alfred Schnittke and Alexander Knaifel. Also among them is György Kurtág. His epigrammatic works function like punctuation marks in the dramatic structure of the recording. As does György Ligeti with the multi-layered counterpoint of his entire oeuvre.

The CD's booklet text sums it up: 'A wistful charm imbues this entire recording of pieces which, though not written together, seem to have been predestined for each other.'