The most recent of Michael Finnissy's numbered quartets date from 2007 and 2009 respectively though, as Christopher Fox's sleeve notes reveal, the Third Quartet was actually conceived before its predecessor. Both have classical models – for the compact, 20-minute Second it's Haydn, and specifically the fifth of his Op 64 set of quartets, while for the Third – at 44 minutes more than twice as long – the block-like construction of Bruckner symphonies provides the starting point. The agile spirit of Haydn certainly seems to pervade the whole of the Second Quartet, but the Third is a much stranger work. There are allusions to Bruckner's First and Second Symphonies in its massive, densely layered opening paragraphs, but gradually that highly wrought string writing gives way to something totally unexpected: first to music that incorporates transcriptions of birdsong, and then to recordings of the birdsongs themselves, which eventually replace the quartet completely. There's nothing remarkable about the birds Finnissy involves – lots of sparrows, blackbirds, distant crows and pigeons – but their significance and role in the quartet escape me altogether.
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