Israel String Quartet

Juan Crisóstomo de Arriaga: String Quartets

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The ill-fated Juan Crisóstomo de Arriaga, who was called the Spanish Mozart and shared a middle name with the Viennese master. He died at the age of 19 after producing a series of precocious works in what might already be called a neo-classic style; the three string quartets recorded here were composed in 1822 and 1823 in Paris, by which time Austrian and German taste had moved on to more expansive things. Rather than aping Mozart's style (although there are a few individual movements in which Mozart serves as a direct model), Arriaga draws on a variety of sources: Mozart, Haydn, the brilliant styles of Cherubini and Boccherini, and just a bit of Spanish color. There is not a lot, but the guitar-like pizzicatos in the Minuet of the String Quartet No. 1 in D minor and a few other details recall Boccherini's look forward to the growth of Spanish nationalism. For the most part these are substantial, well-wrought sonata structures with spacious string writing and sharp if not instantly memorable melodies of a rather symphonic kind. The final String Quartet No. 3 in E flat major is the most ambitious work and the one that begins to move in the direction of early Beethoven. These quartets would enhance any recital, and there are a few other recordings of them; the Israel String Quartet has a good grasp of the ambition and the submerged intensity of the music, but they are hampered by rather metallic sound from a church in Rhoon, in the Netherlands. Nevertheless, this is recommended for devotees of early Romantic chamber music; the musical game of "what if?" has never been more intriguing than with Arriaga.

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