A principal theme of this year’s Vale of Glamorgan festival is the natural world and our sense of place, with the music of John Luther Adams a particular focus. Adams’ fifth string quartet, entitled Lines Made by Walking and dating from 2019, was given its European premiere at this recital given by the Carducci Quartet.
Originally identifying with Alaska where his commitment to environmental activism began, Adams has more recently taken inspiration from walking in Mexico, the altiplano of Chile, and in Montana’s hills and canyons. Immersing himself in the landscape and following its natural contours, Adams translates his deeply instinctive reaction to the vibrations of his surroundings into musical pathways. Across this quartet’s three movements – Up the Mountain, Along the Ridges and Down the Mountain – the ongoing repetition of melodies seemed to parallel the dogged tread of footsteps, yet with no series of steps exactly like any other, tapping into an energy somehow akin to the lines of contours on a map. With the intricate textures created as Adams’s simple material is piled layer upon layer – shades of Arvo Pärt in this – the cumulative, elemental resonance of the strings was all-enveloping and often striking.
It’s now 25 years since the formation of the Carducci Quartet and, thanks to a previous long residency at Cardiff University’s School of Music, there was a feeling of homecoming here as well as an implicit understanding of how to use the acoustic. Having premiered Huw Watkins’s String Quartet for the Manchester Chamber Concerts Society in 2013, their return to this work in a familiar context found them exploring its range of expressive string colour, its joy and melancholy, with the conviction of ownership. That was certainly true of cellist Emma Denton, realising her instrument’s role in grounding the other players, but also its impassioned lyrical outbursts.
Tarik O’Regan’s Gradual, based on his experience of travelling in the state of Idaho, was a further reflection of the environmental thread and the Carducci brought to it a febrile intensity. Constructed in 3o short intersecting segments, the rhythmic variety held the attention throughout, with the dancingly wild final section making for an exuberant end.