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
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.