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In the South
Hugo WOLF (1860 - 1903)
Italian Serenade [6:58]
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 - 1924)
Crisantemi [7:20]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813 - 1901)
String Quartet in E minor [23:42]
Joaquin TURINA (1882 - 1949)
La oración del torero (The Toreador’s Prayer) Op 34 [8:39]
Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921 - 1992)
Four, for Tango [6:43]
Nicolò PAGANINI (1782 - 1840)
From 24 Capricci, Op. 1, for Solo Violin (arr. by Paul Cassidy): Lento in G Minor - Tema, Quasi presto - 12 Variations in A Minor [12:27]
Brodsky Quartet (Daniel Rowland and Ian Belton (violins), Paul Cassidy (viola), Jacqueline Thomas (cello))
rec. 28-30 October 2012, Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk
CHANDOS CHAN 10761 [66:02]

“In the South” could just as well be interpreted as “South of the Alps”, the title of a once popular ‘light music’ orchestral suite by Ernst Fischer (1900 - 1975). He was German and saw the Mediterranean from a Northern perspective. That is also the perspective that opens this utterly delectable programme of mainly string quartet miniatures. Hugo Wolf’s only really well known non-vocal composition is his Italian Serenade, which finds him in uncommonly light-hearted mood. Here it is the sun that makes the waves glitter, whereas in many of his songs it is the shadow that dominates. His wider interest in the South also resulted in his two ‘song cycles’ or rather collections Italienisches Liederbuch and Spanisches Liederbuch.
Puccini’s non-vocal music is also limited and Crisantemi is the only work that has reached wider circulation. Where Wolf dances and glitters, Puccini contemplates the brevity of life at the sight of chrysanthemums and the Brodskys underline the melancholy. The elegiac quality of the melodies somewhat later made the composer reuse the music for the tragic last act of his opera Manon Lescaut.
Verdi also restricted his composing to vocal music but his operas are still treasure-troves for lovers of orchestral music. He even approaches chamber music in the two preludes to La traviata, but it was not until twenty years later that he decided to write a full-length chamber music work that was worth publishing - although he insisted that it was only a trifle. It was met with a certain amount of scepticism when it was first presented but is now established as a standard work in the quartet repertoire. Though conceived along the lines of the classical Austro-German quartet tradition, it is clear that it is permeated with Mediterranean temperament. Not least the first movement is a mini-drama that reflects the style of his later operas - Aida had recently been premiered. The second movement also gradually grows to a dramatic apex before settling in the elegiac mood of the beginning. This is serious Verdi. The short third movement marked Prestissimo is no real scherzo. It is mainly dark and aggressive with a melancholy trio, where one can hear echoes of Aida. The scherzo marking is instead applied on the finale: light and whirlwind like, the fugue being the embryo to his final masterpiece, the finale of Falstaff. I have long cherished the old DG recording with the Amadeus Quartet but the Brodskys are not an iota inferior - this is really masterly playing!
Turina’s La oración del torero was written in 1925, originally for a lute quartet and later also arranged for string orchestra. It changes between contemplative, soft moments and sudden dramatic outbursts. Turina’s incentive for the work was the sight of a toreador praying and receiving the Sacrament of Holy Unction before going into the arena, where there is excitement, laughter, music.
Piazzolla’s Four for Tango, composed as late as 1988 for the Kronos Quartet, is without doubt one of his bravest works with instrumental effects like glissandi, shrieks (bird cries?), percussive sounds and it is also heavily dissonant. In the midst of this the tango rhythms are alive and the short piece is both entertaining and fascinating.
The final number is a first recording of Paul Cassidy’s arrangements of two capricci by Paganini. The Lento is contemplative in a refined late-Beethoven manner; the well known Capriccio No. 24 is a virtuoso piece and it’s thrilling to hear it played in quartet shape with impressive precision. Those who feel they have heard the original solo violin version too many times this is a nice listen for a change. For those who like further challenge I recommend all 24 Capricci played on saxophone (see review).
Excellent sonics, as can only be expected from Chandos, good notes and expert playing should make this an attractive buy for string quartet lovers, in particular those with a taste for Mediterranean sun.
Göran Forsling