Discursiveness is not an option in Peter Garland’s music for string quartet. In the 51 minutes of this graceful record, finely played by Apartment House (Gordon MacKay and Hilary Sturt on violin, Bridget Carey on viola and founder Anton Lukoszevieze on cello), you won’t find an unnecessary note or phrase. All events appear as predisposed to symbolize a state of near-perfection, the kind of harmonious mental condition people rabbits on ceaselessly, hypothetically conquerable with years upon years of “meditative activity” but, in truth, only achieved through other kinds of harmonic processes – the ones instigated by a different, deeper practice of fine tuning.
Indeed, the first sensation experienced as soon as “In Praise Of Poor Scholars” begins is one of accomplishment, of inner quietude. The last verses of T’ao Ch’ien’s poem from which the piece’s title originates recite:
“Know your strengths, keep to trodden ways. Who hasn’t known cold and hunger? Those who know me: if they are no longer here – that’s it then. Why complain?”
The musicians perform Garland’s tantalizing score with agile susceptibility and ecstatic sentiment, transforming the act of listening in a peaceable commemoration, the acknowledgment of an order of things that might seem casual, yet is going to be understood as ideal as we grow older. Counterpoints and intersections are rather logical – even by non-expert standards – though we’re very far away from the obtuse luxury of certain renowned composers who blend Buddhism and budgets before releasing sterile exercises for ready-to-roar, auditorium-subscribing simpletons. The luminosity and the humble purity of these gentle constructions represent the perfect antidotes to that sort of vulgarity, an authentic compensation for ears tired of humdrum cadenzas and opulent chords that turn an unearned ovation into a mandatory response.
“Crazy Cloud” is a reference to “the pen name of poet-priest Ikkyu (1394-1481)”, and was composed during a residency at the Koninji Temple in Hamochi, on the Japanese island of Sado. This particular Quartet is slightly more affirmative, authoritative in rare occasions, with barely hinted allusions to quasi-Reichian minimalist structures alternated to moments of collected reflection and reserved spirituality (factors influencing the whole album, in case someone is still uncertain). The performance is again flawless, technical exactness manifest but never, ever transcending the limit of a level-headed equanimity bathed in poignant awareness. As always, no useful words exist to convey what the vibration of juxtaposed strings communicates. It’s an undisclosed bliss that will remain forever contained within; the luck of being able to taste it embodies a veritable gift, which a truly conscious individual must demonstrate of actually deserving.