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Juan Crisóstomo de ARRIAGA (1806-1826)
String Quartet No. 1 in D minor (published 1824)
(I. Allegro [06:47]; II. Adagio con espressione [05:48]; III. Menuetto - Allegro - Trio piu moderato [02:53]; IV. Adagio - Allegretto [07:30])
String Quartet No. 2 in A major (published 1824)
(I. Allegro con brio [08:10]; II. Andante con variaciones [06:46]; III. Menuetto - Scherzo - Trio [03:14]; IV. Andante ma non troppo - Allegro [04:50])
String Quartet No. 3 in E flat major (published 1824)
(I. Allegro [07:53]; II. Pastorale - Andantino [05:46]; III. Menuetto - Allegro - Trio plus lent [03:08]; IV. Presto agitato [06:18])
Camerata Boccherini
Recorded at Santa Cruz Auditorium, Tenerife, June 2003
NAXOS 8.557628 [69.05]

Arriaga has been so closely identified as a consummate follower of Mozart that it can be difficult to adduce an infusion of individuality to his distinctly classical quartets. The First in D minor for instance is so steeped in Classicism that it’s hard to root much individuality in the formula of the first movement or the primus inter pares role for the first violin in the Adagio, even if its yielding-stern schema may seem initially promising. It’s really only in the Minuet that Arriaga strikes out. Here some angular phrasing, folk textures and pizzicato-sprung rhythm in the trio free the too-rigid structural embrace, which had earlier existed. By the time of the finale we have some plangent material and a fine series of terraced dynamics. The material however is over-stretched and sounds long-winded in this performance; not entirely the fault of the Camerata Boccherini, though the violins tend toward tonal shrillness.

The A major sounds rather more Haydnesque than Mozartian. Its most attractive feature is the aria-like slow movement, a series of variations of great charm and relative formal simplicity. The finale is rather conventional once more but it’s extremely well put together with contrastive material making full impact and fine unison writing that makes for telling timbral effect. By the time we reach the Third Quartet – they were all published in 1824 – we find Arriaga has finessed his use of varied material to even greater advantage, using stern chording and a more yielding feminine response to good effect. This is probably the most attractive of the trio of quartets with a warm-hearted first violin part, a winning two-violin folk section with drone cello and a line that manages to sway with delicious verve. The more tense moments act as fine blocks that generate thematic friction and the sense of formal flexibility shows that as he wrote Arriaga grew in confidence and ranged more widely through a succession of moods and inflections. This is the place to concentrate on the young composer’s embryonic significance – his early death was a grievous blow.

The performances are personable though I would have welcomed a rather greater tonal breadth from the violins and a lack of abrasive tone. They’re certainly acceptable – though one can certainly imagine more obviously athletic and expressive performances.

Jonathan Woolf



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