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Influencias, Cuarteto Casals

Influencias: Ravel, Toldrà, Turina, Cuarteto Casals (released 2007)
The new disc by the Cuarteto Casals, whom we reviewed at Dumbarton Oaks last month (shortly after which the group made their debut at Carnegie Hall, reviewed very positively by Steve Smith in the New York Times), recently came across my desk. The theme noted in the recording's title is the relationship of quartets by the influence of one composer on another. If that provides an excuse to bring together such worthy recordings of unusual quartets, it's fine by me. Ravel's sole contribution to the genre (F major, from 1903) is hardly unfamiliar: we have heard it live from Quatuor Ébène at the Corcoran and the Shanghai Quartet at the Freer, both in the last year, and several admirable recordings are available (Emerson, Borodin, Alban Berg, Keller, Belcea, Juilliard, and Tokyo quartets, to name only a few). Dedicated to Fauré, this innately ear-pleasing quartet is given a gorgeous, delicate, color-rich reading by this young quartet, formed in Madrid in 1997. The guitar-like pizzicato sections of the second movement, in particular, seem most related to the Iberian selections on this album.

Also by Cuarteto Casals:

available at Amazon
Debussy / Zemlinsky, Quartets (2005)

available at Amazon
Mozart, Early String Quartets and Divertimenti (2005)

available at Amazon
Arriaga, Quartets (2003)
Ravel's influence is then heard in Eduard Toldrà's Vistes al mar (Views on the sea), possibly known to some listeners in the composer's later orchestral arrangement. This beautiful recording of the original string quartet version, from 1921, is made all the more definitive by the interspersed tracks of the poems by Joan Maragall (1860-1911) that inspired each movement, read in Catalan by Iván Sinyol. (The poems are all evocations of the Costa Brava region.) La Ginesta is an ecstatic tribute to the wildflower, known in English as weaver's broom and in French as genêt, captured in a sunny, bouncy first movement. Most striking is the glassy, somber second movement -- inspired by Allà a les llunyanies, a portrait of a moonlit sea -- as beautiful an evocation of the dark, shifting sea as those in Britten's Peter Grimes. The third movement returns to buoyancy, with the boat-tossing noontime sea described in La mar estava.

The final track is devoted to Joaquin Turina's Oración del torero, a programmatic work from 1925 depicting the nervous prayer of a bullfighter in the chapel before the corrida. The echoes of the pasodoble, the march-like music often played in the arena, are heard in alternation with the calm, sweet sounds of meditation. Originally composed for lute quartet -- a version I would love to hear sometime -- this version for string quartet would make a nice, if substantial (8'26") encore piece. Just as with their definitive recording of the string quartets of Juan Crisóstomo Arriaga, the "Spanish Mozart," the Cuarteto Casals has again distinguished their latest disc by an original choice of repertoire, as well as skilled and sensitive playing.

Harmonia Mundi Ibèrica HMI 987072

Marc Geelhoed reviewed this disc the day after I did, for Time Out Chicago.

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