Notes and Editorial Reviews
MEXICAN ROMANTIC QUARTETS
SONO LUMINUS DSL 92130 (79:32)
String Quartet No. 2.
String Quartet in G.
String Quartet in e
The notes with this issue contain an interesting essay by Ricardo Miranda on the nature of
romanticism, but all you need to know is that these four Mexican string quartets, composed over seven decades, employ a language that would have been happily at home in the mid to late 19th century. Whether this constitutes a reaction to 20th-century musical trends or merely sidesteps them is a hypothetical argument. The music is what it is, and for the most part it is warmly lyrical and tender by turns, chromatic in harmony (though not overly so), idiomatically conceived for the medium, and genuinely enjoyable. I first auditioned this CD on a cold day with the rain pelting down outside, and it was the perfect aural equivalent of a warming mug of hot chocolate.
The earliest work is Gustavo Campa’s
, dating from 1889. These pieces consist of a Minuet, which makes piquant use of cello pizzicato in the accompaniment, a Gavotte, rather neatly worked out in the form of a canon, and a slightly longer Theme and Variations. Despite the titles, this is Classical-era music through a Romantic-era filter—think Grieg’s
Alfred Carrasco’s quartet, written in 1944, is one of the two more modern works on the disc (comparatively speaking). Textures are sparer here; the opening Allegro and gentle Andante tranquillo contain many passages where only one or two instruments are playing. Carrasco hailed from Guadalajara, and the finale of his quartet recalls music of that area (birthplace of the raucous mariachis), without the composer ever abandoning his light touch. Lilting passages where the violins play in thirds are attractively tuneful and light-hearted.
The short Quartet in G by Domingo Lobato (b.1920) comes from 1958. In three succinct movements, its highlights are an inward-looking Largo dominated by the viola, and a brisk finale that brings the only hint of Latin American rhythms on the entire disc. The longest quartet, the second by Alfonso de Elias (1902–84), is also the fullest and richest work in the program (the most romantic, if you will), even though it was composed as late as 1961. If you respond to the quartets of Borodin or the subtler chamber music of Fauré, you should enjoy this piece. Elias, like Borodin, uses much imitation of short musical motifs and conjures a big sound from the ensemble, even in the sprightly scherzo movement. Like Carrasco, he quotes a popular song from Guadalajara in the finale, but as he slows the theme down and begins it in a minor key it loses any identifiable Latin flavor. Elias’s quartet is a major work, running more than 30 minutes but never giving the impression that the composer is stalling for time. It is full of melody and intricate thematic development.
None of these composers could be described as a big name. All were academics and/or organists active mainly on their home turf, but it is revealing to discover another school of Mexican composers outside the modern nationalist movement led by Chávez and Revueltas, to whom they cede nothing in technique or inspiration. The Latinoamericano Quartet, to which we are indebted for many excellent recordings of the South American repertoire (including the complete quartets of Villa-Lobos), gives these little-known works the luxury treatment, playing with precision and hearts manfully on sleeves. (On this showing, they should record the Borodin quartets ASAP.) The Sono Luminus engineers have placed the instruments in a close but not cloying acoustic, and I should point out that this is a brand-new recording from 2010, not a reissue. It is also a warmly recommended indulgence.
FANFARE: Phillip Scott Read less
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