Arriaga: String Quartet No. 1; String Quartet No. 2; String Quartet No. 3

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COMPOSERS: Arriaga
LABELS: ASV
WORKS: String Quartet No. 1; String Quartet No. 2; String Quartet No. 3
PERFORMER: Arriaga Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: CD DCA 1012
Juan Crisóstomo Jacobo Antonio de Arriaga entered this life in Bilbao on 27 January 1806, half a century to the day after Mozart. By the time of his tragically premature death (from tuberculosis) when aged just 19, Arriaga had been hailed widely throughout Europe as the ‘Spanish Mozart’. That his reputation persists, not just on the basis of anecdote, less still on productivity (just a handful of works survive) reflects a significant level of creative accomplishment which often passes unheeded.

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This is the second integral survey (the trilogy fits comfortably on a single CD) of Arriaga’s three string quartets, published in Paris in 1824, to have appeared in recent months. Where the Voces Quartet’s unsympathetic traversal for MDG sounded tense, febrile and rough-hewn, this new cycle from the Belgian Arriaga Quartet (which has violinist Michael Guttman as its leader) is vastly superior.

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Incidentally, this isn’t the first ensemble to take this composer’s name as its own; my shelves yielded a Seventies LP of Beethoven’s Op. 74 by an indifferent but eponymous British group. The Belgians, however, are highly accomplished. Their venturesome, urgent, refreshingly spontaneous advocacy presents a compelling case for these pleasing but neglected works. Recommended. Michael Jameson