The Ligeti Quartet is a group of young musicians dedicated to the performance of 20th- and 21st-century works. Their recital on Friday at the Jacqueline du Pré Building offered a generous and varied programme and showed why they are rapidly making a name for themselves. Philip Glass’s second quartet Company opened the evening, a sombre work which grew out of a commission to write music for a text by Samuel Beckett. Its open, expressive textures make this an engaging piece. Nicola LeFanu’s densely argued Quartet No. 2 which followed I found a less convincing work, but György Ligeti’s wonderful first quartet which closed the first half was superb.

Ligeti’s piece wrestles with profound questions. It takes the listener through violent shifts of mood, dance themes disintegrate into chaos, humour suddenly turns to despair. It opens and closes with the same searching theme on the violin.

The second half started with a video of shifting colour projected on to the wall behind the stage and a tape of ethereal sound, pre-recorded by the quartet, providing an accompaniment to the live playing. Natalia Gubaidulina’s music creates a unique sound world. In this work, her fourth quartet, the performers at one point stroke the strings with rubber balls to produce that other-worldly music.

The earliest and shortest piece in the programme was Webern’s Six Bagatelles. These highly economical pieces — the whole work lasts less than four minutes — are pregnant with possibility. This is a modern ‘classic’ which had a huge influence on 20th- century music.

Elena Firsova’s lyrical Quartet No. 8 which followed had bleak echoes of the music of fellow Russian composer Dimitri Shostakovich. Rounding off this magical evening was John Adams’s Fellow Traveller, a piece bursting with vitality and good humour, and a complete contrast to the Firsova.

The quartet’s understanding and enjoyment of this music was palpable and their playing both confident and persuasive. Every piece came to life.

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