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Juan Crisóstomo de ARRIAGA (1806-1826)
String Quartet No. 1 in D minor (published 1824) [24:19]
String Quartet No. 2 in A major (published 1824) [24:08]
String Quartet No. 3 in E flat major (published 1824) [27:10]
Prima Vista Quartet
rec. National Philharmonic Theatre, Stanisławów, October 2006
DUX 0577 [76:37]
Experience Classicsonline

His pitifully early death has rendered Arriaga forever one of the great what-ifs of nineteenth century music. His quartets so clearly breathe the classical air of Vienna, and are so deeply and richly imbued with the spirit of Haydn and Mozart that it can be easy to pass over those moments of Iberian cosmopolitanism that do surface in these three works. All were published in 1824, two years before his demise. Arriaga wrote these three quartets when he was seventeen.

For all that it would be hard to make out a case for their untrammelled greatness. They are gracious and engaging but not always vested with great individuality and do sometimes plough formulae that would, later in his life perhaps, not serve his needs so easily. The D minor is a generous work, though, high on primus inter pares pleasures for the first violin in the Adagio and sporting some nice rather angular phrasing and folkloric hues in the Minuet. Fortunately the Polish Prima Vista Quartet has been very warmly recorded in the National Philharmonic Theatre in Stanisławów. They deal with the sternly expressive slow movement and coalesce the material well. The Minuet for example is not over-laced with vitamins as it can sometimes be – the pizzicati and string accompaniment figures are measured and malleable.

The Second Quartet is the most Classical of the three, owing more to Haydn than its confreres. The motoric start is well conveyed and inner voices are always audible. The formally clear and well laid out second movement Theme with variations is played with verve and a pleasing amount of Haydnesque wit; the pizzicati here are especially good. Capricious dialogues and exchanges illuminate the same quartet’s Minuet. The Third Quartet is fluent, fluid and timbrally interesting and by some way the best and most important of the three.  He manages to fuse his material with greater fluidity and character. Note the viola’s delightfully airy first movement melody, the mood-changing and colouristic Pastorale with its passing storm panel strongly accented and characterised. The finale is nicely shaped though maybe it’s not quite agitato enough; I’ve heard more urgent performances.

Nevertheless these are convincing and highly effective, clearly affectionate performances. I prefer the Prima Vista to the edgier Camerata Boccherini on Naxos 8.557628 who offer an identical programme but do take overall just that much faster tempi. Irrespective my choice is this Dux one.

Jonathan Woolf


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