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In the Moment - Short Pieces for String Quartet
Arabella String Quartet (Julie Eskar, Sarita Kwok, violins, Ettore Causa, viola, Alexandre Lecarme, cello)
rec. 2014, Futura Productions, Roslindale
NAXOS 8.579013 [68:33]

Compilations of short pieces for string quartet have been issued now and then through the years. I remember one from the 1970s, I believe, with the Juilliard Quartet, Hyperion’s recording with The Delmé String Quartet, Leipziger Streichquartett on Dabringhaus and Grimm and Borodin Quartet’s 60th Anniversary on Onyx. Some works tend to appear on most of these issues. A perennial favourite is Puccini’s Crisantemi, but it is well worth hearing again, and generally speaking there is not too much overlapping between these discs. On this new disc with the excellent Arabella Quartet, formed as recently as 2012, there are several new acquaintances – for me at least.

The opening work by Joaquin Turina is an atmospheric piece of programme music. Written in 1924 for a quartet of lutes, but later reworked for string quartet, it describes a bullfighting fiesta – the title La Oración del Torero translates as “The Bullfighter’s Prayer” – as the composer experienced it behind the scenes. There was a small chapel where the toreadors went to pray just before facing death on the arena. That it was originally composed for plucked instruments is obvious insofar as pizzicato playing is employed in certain passages.

Those who regard Anton Webern as a difficult and atonal composer, will probably be pleased to hear that this Langsamer Satz (Slow Movement) is an early work – he was little more than twenty – it’s tonal, emotional and expressive. The final pages are highly romantic.

Mendelssohn’s music is generally skilful, inventive and formally perfect and his Four Pieces for string quartet is no exception. The first three of them are sprinkled in between the other works and that’s no bad idea, but I wouldn’t have minded to have the fourth included as well. The second of them, Scherzo in A minor, is so typical for a Mendelssohnian scherzo – swift and airy – and the third, the rousing E minor Capriccio, is the perfect final number to this entertaining and inspiring recital.

Shostakovich’s Two Pieces for String Quartet are early works – earlier than his first full quartet – and were rediscovered only after his death. Both are adaptations of other works. The dark and brooding Elegy is an aria from his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk and the Polka, burlesque and ironic, is from his ballet The Golden Age. I think the Fitzwilliam Quartet was the first to record them more than thirty years ago.

Carl Nielsen composed At the Bier of a Young Artist in 1910 for the funeral of painter Oluf Hartmann and later adapted for string orchestra. He conducted it on several occasions and it was also played at his own funeral. It is sad but beautiful. Hugo Wolf’s Italian Serenade is quite the opposite: light-hearted and sunny, in fact very atypical for him. Puccini’s early Crisantemi in a fine-tuned reading will evoke memories for opera lovers of his first success, Manon Lescaut, where he reused themes from the quartet.

Antonin Dvorak was an avid composer of string quartets, and the waltzes Op. 54 are, as can only be expected, melodious and attractive. Waltz No. 1 is sweet and charming and in No. 4 we hear birds singing.

Franz Schubert’s isolated Quartettsatz in C minor is possibly the greatest music on this disc and counts with his full quartets in A minor and D minor as possibly his best chamber music works.

A mix of music from many European countries played nation-wise just as mixed group, consisting of players from Denmark, Australia, Italy and France. The playing is everything one could wish for, the recording is excellent and the liner notes, by the quartet’s Sarita Kwok, give valuable information on the works. Even well-stocked quartet lovers will probably find new acquaintances here.

Göran Forsling
Joaquin TURINA (1882 – 1949)
1. La Oración del Torero, Op. 34 [7:33]
Anton WEBERN (1883 – 1945)
2. Langsamer Satz (1905) [8:35]
Four Pieces for String Quartet, Op. 81
3. I. Tema con variazioni in E major, Andante – Andante sostenuto [5:27]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906 – 1975)
Two Pieces for String Quartet [6:20]
4. Elegy: Adagio (from Act I, Scene 3 of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District, figs 140-52, Op. 29) [4:01]
5. Polka: Allegretto (from The Golden Age, Op. 22a, No. 3) [2:19]
Carl NIELSEN (1865 – 1931)
6. Ved en ung Kunstners Baare, FS 58 (At the Bier of a young Artist) [4:30]
Hugo WOLF (1860 – 1903)
7. Italian Serenade (1887) [6:34]
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 – 1924)
8. ‘Crisantemi’ Elegy for String Quartet (1890) [5:28]
Four Pieces for String Quartet, Op. 81
9. II. Scherzo in A minor, Allegro leggiero [3:37]
Antonin DVORAK (1841 – 1904)
Waltzes, Op. 54 [6:31]
10. Waltz No. 1 [3:32]
11. Waltz No. 4 [2:59]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797 – 1828)
12. Quartettsatz in C minor, D.703 [8:13]
Four Pieces for String Quartet, Op. 81
13. iii. Capriccio in E minor. Andante con moto – Allegro fugato, assai vivace [5:37]



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