Arriaga: Complete String Quartets

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COMPOSERS: Arriaga
LABELS: Glossa
ALBUM TITLE: Arriaga: Complete String Quartets
WORKS: Complete String Quartets
PERFORMER: La Ritirata
CATALOGUE NO: GCD 923102

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Juan Crisóstomo de Arriaga was born on what would have been Mozart’s 50th birthday, had he lived. Yet in comparison, Mozart enjoyed a long life: the Basque composer died aged 19. His surviving legacy consists principally of a symphony, and three string quartets written at the age of 18. The quartets are attractive pieces, by turns naively innocent and emotionally ambiguous, but always written with real flair for the medium. The variation slow movement of the A major middle work has an almost simplistic theme, but its minor-mode variation lends the music a dark and expressive tinge; and an enchanting guitar-like pizzicato variation is followed by a coda that invokes imaginative and unexpected harmonisations of the melody. Then there is the melancholy of the opening movement of the D minor First Quartet, and the rustic innocence of the ‘pastorale’ second movement of the Quartet No. 3, whose quiet tremolos eventually engender a storm.

These works have been recorded notably by the Guarneri Quartet (reissued on Newton) playing with admirable virtuosity, and more recently by the Cuarteto Casals (Harmonia Mundi). In this new period-instrument version, La Ritirata give lively and alert accounts, clearly in sympathy with the music. The disc also includes a set of variations Arriaga wrote at the age of 14: no great discovery, but its unexpected pizzicato envoi is a charming and typical touch.

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Misha Donat