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Bela BARTÓK (1881-1945)
String Quartet No. 2 (1917) [28:40]
Alberto GINASTERA (1916-1983)
String Quartet No. 1, Op. 20 (1948) [22:36]
Rodolfo HALFFTER (1900-1987)
Ocho Tientos para cuarteto de cuerda, Op. 35 (1973) [18:01]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Drei Ländler in B, D. 374/378 [2:43]
Galician Carol: “Panxoliña para o Nadal de 1829” [3:27]
Cuarteto Quiroga (Aitor Hevia – violin, Cibrán Sierra – violin, Josep Puchades – viola, Helena Poggio – cello)
rec. 2017, WestVest90 Church, Schiedam, The Netherlands
COBRA 0059 [75:31]

The Cuarteto Quiroga offers outstanding performances of three important string quartets by Bartok, Ginastera, and Halffter, spanning much of the Twentieth Century. They seek to unify this program under the rubric of “Terra,” which allegedly underscores the composers’ “musical contact with the fertile Earth.” The pomposity of the CD notes is nicely undercut by its illustrations, which show these four musicians and their instruments covered in dirt, nodding to the savage element in these works. The art shows the Cuarteto Quiroga to be good sports and probably a lot of fun. Their playing is bold and powerful, but not savage, in that these performances are well-planned and highly controlled, sophisticated instead of primitive.

I was especially impressed by their dramatic and intense approach to Bartok’s second quartet. Heightened contrasts keep the opening movement from drooping, as it often does in weaker performances. The middle Allegro molto capriccioso showcases splendid ensemble playing. Throughout the work, the Quiroga gives phrases room to breathe, while still pressing relentlessly forward. The result is an arresting juxtaposition of Bartok’s desolation and manic commotion.
Alberto Ginastera’s String Quartet No. 1 contains many echoes of Bartok, not least in the sharp rhythms of opening Allegro violento ed agitato, played here with exhilaration. The Vivacissimo jitters along until it turns into something altogether more searing. The third movement, calmo e poetico, is a kind of Argentinian nachtmusik. The closing Allegramente rustico deploys a fetching awkwardness and includes an extended pizzicato passage to remind you of Bartok one more time before a ringingly affirmative coda. The Quiroga does itself proud in this work, although I will hold on to my recording by the Cuarteto Latinamericano for its even more visceral excitement.
New to me is Rodolfo Halffter’s 1973 Ocho Tientos para cuarteto de cuerda. Halffter was on the losing side of the Spanish Civil War, and spent much of his career in exile in Mexico, where he is said to have introduced twelve-tone composition. “Tiento” is a Sixteenth Century Spanish form, counterpart to the fantasia. Halffter’s eight beguiling pieces are only about two minutes each, and draw upon Iberian musical traditions to fashion a modern composition that honours its renaissance antecedents. The work’s charm comes from its embrace of stylized gestures. The movements are untitled, but not much imagination is required to recognize I. as a ceremonious greeting. III. is an enthusiastic and joyous dance. IV. is courtly, inquisitive, and sorrowful. The slow melody of VII. might be a love song but for the forlorn accompaniment to this tiny serenade. The off-beat rhythms of VIII. signal a leave-taking that is bittersweet, yet formal. In spirit, the piece reminds me of Gian Francesco Malipiero’s 1920 String Quartet No. 1 (“Rispetti e Strambotti”). Malipiero is ardent where Halffter is cool, but both reach back to pre-baroque forms to fashion generally happy, yet highly ritualized music.

The Quiroga provide two encores. One is a delicately played group of Schubert Ländler. The second is a Galician carol, brilliantly arranged by the Quiroga’s Cibrán Sierra. What initially sounds to non-Iberians like an Irish jig quickly reveals itself in full Spanish splendor. The concluding section of the carol reminds you of the warm and detailed sound captured throughout this disc.

Previous recordings by the Cuarteto Quiroga have also been well received by MusicWeb International reviewers, including the Brahms Op. 51 Quartets, and Piano Quintets by Granados and Turina.

Richard Kraus



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