Alberto GINASTERA (1916–1983)
String Quartets - complete
String Quartet No.1 Op.20 (1948) [2038]
String Quartet No.2 Op.26 (revised version) (1957) [2502]
String Quartet No.3 Op.40* (1973) [24:49] (I. Contemplativo (Juan Ramón Jiménez); II. Fantástico; III. Amoroso (Federico García Lorca); IV. Drammatico (Rafael Alberti); V. Di nuovo contemplativo (Juan Ramón Jiménez))
Cuarteto Latinoamericano (Saúl Bitrán (violin); Arón Bitrán (violin); Javier Montiel (viola); Alvaro Bitrán (cello)); *Claudia Montiel (soprano)
rec. 1989, 1990, 1997, location not specified
Ginastera’s highly individual and engaging string quartets abound in kinetic energy. He is coming in for substantial attention in the CD lists. Naxos has issued various orchestral discs (Panambi and Piano Concertos) and very recently there has been a counterpart Naxos coupling of the three quartets (8.570780) from Lucy Shelton and the Enso Quartet. While the symphony seems not to have interested him operas were a prime concern. His very controversial and dissonant Bomarzo as well as Beatrice Cenci and Don Rodrigo should surely be recorded and heard again. Bomarzo was on 3 CBS LPs with Julius Rudel (b. 1921) the conductor who led the 1960s premiere. We should also not forget the Violin Concerto on Dynamic played by Accardo.
The splenetically bustling First Quartet goes like a runaway train. The murderous Vivacissimo is full of corrosive pizzicato invective and is superbly recorded; initially by Elan – wow! The long Calmo provides time for the drawing of breath and a lulling Bergian pallet on which to lie. The finale has a pastoral feeling as well as plenty of those reserves of bustling early Bartókian energy we heard in the first two movements. A most impressive piece overall and though sinewy and concentrated it is far from forbidding. In his useful notes Riccardo Schulz says that this comes from the composer’s period of ‘subjective nationalism’; you can hear what he means.
Almost a decade later, in the Second Quartet we hear Ginastera freely immersed in dissonance. The effect can crudely be described as a concentrate of late Zemlinsky or Frank Bridge. Anxiety, stuttering witchery and skeletal textures dominate. The fifth and final movement is an exhilarating breathless Furioso. The Second Quartet was premiered by the Juilliard in 1958. It is a step-change from the First which must have seemed almost primitive when that work was heard at the 1951 ISCM in Frankfurt.
The Third Quartet is from 1973 and was written in Geneva. It is dedicated to John Rosenfeld (1900-1966) whilom music critic of the Dallas Morning News. The commission came jointly from two Dallas institutions - the Chamber Music Society and the Library. It's unusual in being laid out for soprano - here the ethereal yet vivaciously voiced Claudia Montiel - and string quartet. Only the Fantastico movement is purely instrumental. It shares the same forces as the Schoenberg Second Quartet which was Ginastera’s inspiration for the piece. The exposed textures of the string quartet contrast with the sung words - four verses variously by Juan Ramon Jimenez, Federico Garcia Lorca and Rafael Alberti. The words are various sung and spoken. They are acted, subtly inflected, even confided by Montiel. This is not an oration to a crowd. The music ranges between Bartók, Berg and Penderecki yet at heart never wavers from its embrace with lyricism. It's essentially very approachable although the language is often as thorny as its date would lead you to guess.
I have not heard the Naxos counterpart but it will be worth checking. In any event the two discs are in the same bargain price bracket with the Brilliant disc probably slightly less expensive.
Karl Miller's Pierian label has rescued Barbara Nissman's Ginastera recordings (solo piano and piano with chamber ensemble) and the two Cello Concertos played by Aurora Nátola-Ginastera from the now defunct Newport Classics label. I hope to hear these before too long.
The Cuarteto Latinoamericano may also be recalled for recording, for Dorian, a complete Villa-Lobos quartet sequence. I have been trying, so far unsuccessfully, to source this for review. This Ginastera proves that the Cuarteto Latinoamericano is a luxury ensemble.
These three works are stimulating and invigorating pieces written across a quarter of a century.
Rob Barnett
Stimulating and invigorating quartets written across a quarter of a century ... see Full Review