Notes and Editorial Reviews
Quartet in D
COBRA 0037 (64:06)
Cuarteto Quiroga (you have to go to the final page of the booklet to find the names of its members: Aitor Hevia and Cibrán Siera, violins; Josep Puchades, viola; Helena Poggio, cello) has won its share of international competitions and has concertized widely at the expected venues: Washington’s National Gallery, New York’s Frick Collection, London’s Wigmore Hall, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, all over Europe and South America. Its roots and its home are in Spain, where it is one of the country’s foremost ensembles. Photographs in the booklet show the four clowning around, and they are as comfortable with this repertoire as they are with their image. Their playing is easy and relaxed when appropriate, with a slightly dry ensemble blend that permits each instrument and each line to be heard at all times.
Schoenberg’s four canonical string quartets have been well served on disc, with complete sets by the Kolisch, Juilliard (twice), LaSalle, New Vienna, Leipzig, Arditti, Schoenberg, and Pražák Quartets. The 1897 (pre-First) Quartet has often been left out of many of those surveys; West Hill Radio Archives and Pristine Audio have both recently released the Juilliard’s monaural set, which does not include the 1897 work, rather than its stereo set, which does. The comparative neglect may be due to the early work’s close kinship to the quartets of Brahms and Dvo?ák, its lack of Schoenberg’s revolutionary character. So it is with a conspiratorial wink that this disc is entitled
Schoenberg, too, might have had a twinkle in his eye when he wrote this music, which can be construed as a clever gloss on both his honored forebears: Here are some quirky rhythmic twists and harmonic turns that spice up Dvo?ák’s beautiful blandness and enliven Brahms’s oh-so-serious mien. It is a charming piece; there is enough imitation to be flattering but no pretension of equaling those masters. Webern’s very early Rondo follows; it too retains connections to the world of the Romantic era but is formally free and tonally ambiguous, wandering gently for eight-plus minutes. Webern’s concentration and concision are not yet in evidence.
Berg’s two large movements (10 and 11 minutes) labor a bit. Not yet the assured composer of the
, he was evolving from
master—Schoenberg—yet Berg’s individual voice peeks through the sturdy structures. When we reach Webern’s 1911–13 Six Bagatelles, we are at last in a new world. In the span of a single hour, we have evolved into that world, so it no longer seems the least bit frightening. The moral of the story—the Qiuroga’s message—is that Schoenberg and his colleagues were not as revolutionary as they are usually portrayed, that their works were merely steps in music’s continuing evolution. The headnote lists the music on this CD just as its booklet does, but the Quiroga has a surprise in store: It punctuates its message with a brief chorale (“Befiel du deine Wege”) from the
St. Matthew Passion
. Writing of that masterpiece, Karl Geiringer cites (
The Bach Family
) the “inexhaustible harmonic imagination in the chorales,” and Cibán Sierra writes in the CD notes that the path to new music had started with Bach. This is a well played, superbly planned disc.
FANFARE: James H. North
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