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Roffredo CAETANI (1871-1961)
Quartet in F minor, Op. 12 (1909) [28:28]
Quartet in D, Op. 1 No. 1 (1889) [32:28]
Alauda Quartet (Cristina Prats-Costa (violin I); Milan Berginc (violin II); Rhoslyn Lawton (viola); Elena Cappelletti (cello))
rec. August 2016, St Andreas Church, Hannover, Germany

Good advice and sound decision-making bring us this CD. How many quartets, setting out, regale us with the great and the good because that way proclaims confidence. So many of such efforts end in the remainder bin lost in the torrent of releases. Here the Alauda turn to music otherwise unrecorded and by a composer no longer alive. All praise to them for what must have seemed a brave choice. This ensemble of four young players was founded in 2011 and has already given concerts at London venues including their alma mater the Royal Academy of Music, the Purcell Room and St. Martin in the Fields.

Born into the Italian nobility Caetani died more than half a century ago and but for a disc of piano music - also from Brilliant Classics - is barely known. His godfather was Franz Liszt who was quick to recognise the young Caetani's actual and potential gifts. He directed him to his Italian pupil Sgambati, one of the saving graces of Italian concert music in the opera-dominant and -dominated peninsula. It is clear that Caetani flourished under Sgambati's influence.

The 1909 Quartet is in three movements bathed in warmly humming late-romantic haze and murmur. The unhurried poise of the second movement has the listener reflecting and pensive in the sunshine. The final rapid Presto drives forward strongly with passion. It has sufficient control to relent and make time for the play of half-lights that characterised the middle movement.

The even earlier Quartet in D is in one extended movement — ah, the confidence of youth — here a single 33-minute track. The quartet was written when Caetani was 18 years old. We are told by Mariantonietta Caroprese in her useful liner-essay (English and Italian) that it was modelled on Beethoven's middle quartets but also with a Mendelssohnian bustle. The style is backward-looking yet highly competent. It has a warm ambience but without the suffusion of light and original romantic mezzotints of the 1909 work.

There's nothing skeletal about the sound in either of the quartets. The Alauda give both works their very considerable all and if your attention drifts during the Quartet in D it is nothing to do with the skills or application of these musicians. The sound quality matches the music with just the suggestion of an aura around the voice of each instrument.

The painting on the back of the booklet is by Lelia Caetani, the composer's daughter. It is a very attractive image of the water gardens at Ninfa in the province of Latina central Italy. The gardens are run by the Fondazione Roffredo Caetani.

Rob Barnett



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