Bréton String Quartet

Jesús Guridi: String Quartets (Complete)

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Catalan composer Jesús Guridi, from Bilbao, studied in Paris like most of his Iberian contemporaries in the early 20th century, but then moved on to Germany. He wrote works in various styles, which has probably contributed to his general neglect; his vocal works are strongly Wagnerian, while some of his organ music approximates French keyboard styles. The two string quartets presented here are more difficult to classify. Like other Iberian works they make use of folk or folkish tunes in the manner of Guridi's home Basque region. But they borrow little from French Impressionism, instead developing their basic material in a highly chromatic language. Although the accent is different, the nearest comparison, especially in the slow movements, might be mid-century American chamber music: the harmonic complications resolve into big pentatonic movement endings. The structures are quite complex, but there's never a scholastic feel to the music, and the quartet writing is often extremely idiomatic. The String Quartet No. 1 in G, composed in 1933 and 16 years older than its sibling, is more tightly constructed and perhaps has stronger thematic material, but either work would spice up a concert of contemporary chamber music, and string quartets should get to know them both. Spain's Bretón String Quartet, which has specialized in obscure music from the Iberian peninsula, never flags in energy or precision, and Naxos' studio sound is very strong this time out: close up and intense without losing clarity. A fine offbeat choice from the label's consistently interesting Spanish Classics series.

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