Notes and Editorial Reviews
String Quartets: No 0 in e; No. 2 in a
NAXOS 8.572463 (55:00)
Andrés Isasi was an obscure figure, writing in the first part of the 20th century. He died in 1940 at the young age of 50. Richard Whitehouse’s useful note tells us that Isasi’s music was more popular in northern Europe than in his native Spain, and the reason is not hard to discern: it sounds not in the least Spanish (or Basque, rather, as Isasi was born in Bilbao). Judging from these two quartets his style was modeled on
Dvo?ák and, especially, Grieg. This is late-Romantic music, pure and simple, and even though the second quartet was composed in 1920 there is not a trace of the 20th century about it. Quartets by Schoenberg, Hindemith, and even Debussy may as well never have existed.
The earlier quartet, numbered zero because the composer never withdrew it when he wrote his official “first”, shows Grieg’s influence without being a dull carbon copy. The composer uses thematic and rhythmic motifs that share a contour with those of Grieg: the same love of sequential repetition, and a tendency to veer unexpectedly from minor to major and back, yet the music does not sound stale, nor does it outstay its welcome. This gently melancholic work seems to have been recorded previously, as only the second quartet is advertised as a world premiere recording. Naxos has produced a disc of Isasi’s Second Symphony, which I have not heard, but Colin Anderson in
28:3 described the music as unpretentious and likeable but rarely distinctive. I would apply those adjectives equally to this early quartet.
The four-movement second begins with more forthright harmonic clashes—attacked with relish by this excellent ensemble—but soon settles back into a comfortable late-Romantic language, where it stays. Isasi strikes me as more at home in minor keys than major. (Whitehouse describes the composer’s character as “taciturn and unworldly.”) His folksy major-key dance tunes in the finale of this quartet verge on the trivial. The
is, predictably, the most convincing movement, but the first movement is structurally satisfying, while the third contains a vigorous
passage that is also impressive.
This disc is apparently the first of three covering the composer’s output for string quartet. He wrote eight (including No. 0), although numbers three through seven were all composed in 1921 and only two of these were completed. The group named after the composer play his music with appropriate textural richness, pointing up another influence: Brahms. They are cleanly and warmly recorded.
FANFARE: Phillip Scott
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