Influencias is Cuarteto Casals' fourth disc for Harmonia Mundi, and its loosely defined program is to illustrate internal stylistic connections between works that, on the surface, would normally seem unrelated. While most folks who have some familiarity with French Impressionism are at least vaguely aware of the crosstalk between French composers and their Spanish contemporaries in the early twentieth century, relatively few will be familiar with the string quartet Vistes al mar by the excellent Catalan composer Eduardo Toldrà featured here. It also exists in a version for string orchestra and is more commonly recorded that way; however, the lean directness of the string quartet scoring well suits its clear and relatively uncomplicated, and folk-derived melodic ideas. In the same vein is Joaquín Turina's Oración del torero, another popularly conceived work that moves the string quartet into the bullring, and it is given a warm and sparkling performance here. One assumes the tried and true Ravel String Quartet that leads off the disc provides the "influences" indicated by the title, as it predates the other works by two decades, and this is somewhat vaguely apparent. Yet it is not the weak programmatic concept employed that makes this album gel, it's the superb performance by this young Spanish string quartet, Cuarteto Casals, which has trained under LaSalle Quartet veteran Walter Levin. It must have been paying attention, as the group has a fruitful coalescence of sound that is difficult to put into words; the pizzicato sections of the "Assez vif" movement in the Ravel are as rhythmically plucky as Ravel desires, yet the rich tapestry of his harmony comes ringing through; it is delicious. Every note of the music on this disc vibrates with life and youthful enthusiasm, and Harmonia Mundi's recording is as right as the rain in Spain, taking the listener directly into the center of this intimate chamber group.
The Toldrà work was inspired by poems of Catalonian Barcelona "city poet" Joan Maragall, and three of the poems are read by actor Iván Sinyol between movements of the quartet. These are brief and unobtrusive, and the speaker has a charming voice, though not all listeners will want to be read to with every spin of the disc; figure on programming them out if need be. English texts are provided for those who are not fluida in the Catalan dialect.