The Brodsky Quartet

In the South

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A lighthearted string quartet album might seem a tall order, but Britain's veteran Brodsky Quartet accomplishes just that with In the South, a miscellaneous-seeming collection of southern European (and in one case South American) pieces that nevertheless explores the deeper issue of why the music of North and South in Europe should have diverged as sharply as they did. The pieces here have been recorded often enough by themselves, but they gain something in juxtaposition. The pairing of Hugo Wolf's Italian Serenade -- the product of pure German late Romanticism who was fascinated by Italian music and by the model of Mendelssohn in dealing with it -- with Verdi's String Quartet in E minor -- a work in which Verdi tried, not entirely successfully, to reconcile Italianate melody with German sonata thinking -- is both rare and intelligent. In between we get Puccini's rarely heard and purely operatic Crisantemi (Chrysanthemums) and Joaquín Turina's La oración del torero, Op. 34 (The Bullfighter's Prayer). Astor Piazzolla's Four, for tango, a genuine tango string quartet that Piazzolla wrote late in life, brings a different perspective on the album's basic theme, and the arrangements by violist Paul Cassidy of two of Paganini's Caprices for solo violin take the program even further afield of its basic premise. But it doesn't entirely desert that premise. Everything on the album is lyrical, tuneful, sensuous in the way the title promises. But it will also keep you guessing. A thoroughly enjoyable hour of listening.

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