Notes and Editorial Reviews
String Quartet No. 1,
“3 piezas para cuarteto.”
String Quartet No. 2,
String Quartet No. 7,
“Espacio de silencio”
Leipzig Str Qrt
MDG 307 1671-2 (60:47)
Cristobál Halffter was born in 1930, is a nephew of Ernesto Halffter, and writes music of some density and difficulty. I find myself admiring this recording perhaps more than
loving it. The performances are extraordinarily committed and proficient, and the music makes a very strong impact because of the skills of the Leipzig Quartet, and because the music itself is expressive. But it is expressive in a very modernistic language and is likely to appeal to listeners open to the musical vocabulary of composers like Henze, Birtwistle, Boulez, or Carter.
The first of these quartets is the most accessible (or conservative, if you prefer). Halffter’s Spanish origins are evident, as is his debt to Stravinsky. This is music in the style of the neoclassical Stravinsky, the composer of
L’Histoire du soldat
. Halffter’s music here has an undeniable charm, and is much more than a mere copying of Stravinsky. Between 1956 and 1970 (the dates of Quartets Nos. 1 and 2) Halffter’s style had changed dramatically. In 1970, the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation commissioned chamber works from a number of composers in honor of the Beethoven bicentenary, and one of them was Halffter. He chose to write a string quartet, and in it he recalls specifics of Beethoven’s last quartet, op. 135; Halffter called the quartet “Memories,” and it is clearly meant to recall the earlier masterpiece. The excellent program notes accompanying this disc give all the detail and insight any listener will need to appreciate Halftter’s work. This is a knotty, terse piece of music meant, one is sure, to be as revolutionary in its time as Beethoven’s was when it was composed.
Of the three quartets recorded here, it is the Seventh, composed in 2007, that I find the most difficult to warm up to. Its seven movements are an homage to Beethoven’s op. 131, also in seven movements. But the peculiar conception of this piece is that verses of the 15th-century Spanish poet Jorge Manrique are integrated into the score. But they are not read aloud by the performers; instead, the performers read the poems to themselves. Presumably, the audience has a printed text to read the poems to themselves as well, and MDG kindly provides the poems and translations for us. Thus, the first track of the Seventh Quartet is 11 seconds of silence. Then comes a seven-minute movement marked “Deciso,” followed by another blank track of 13 seconds, and so it goes. The quartet opens and closes with the silence, and has two more such sections internally. As for the music itself, it makes no concessions to the more conservative trends that were making themselves felt strongly by 2007. The music is uncompromisingly harsh, without the contrast of mood and color that tonality can provide. There is no questioning the compositional skill of Halffter, and if you believe that this kind of music is for you, you’ll find it here at a high level.
The recorded sound is excellent; the performances, as I indicated, are far more than merely dutiful or competent. These musicians clearly believe in Halffter’s writing, and they play it with abandon and accuracy. The performances are so good that they make me wish the music were more my cup of tea than it is.
FANFARE: Henry Fogel
Works on This Recording
Quartet for Strings no 1 by Cristobal Halffter
Leipzig String Quartet
Period: 20th Century
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