In the five years between Quartetto Gelato's previous original album (QG Travels the Orient Express) and 2009's Musica Latina, the group underwent dramatic changes, the greatest of which was the death of founding member Cynthia Steljes, English hornist and wife of violinist/tenor Peter de Sotto. During her illness and after, the quartet has changed personnel more than once, which would seem to make it hard to maintain a consistent sound, energy, and focus. Musica Latina, in fact, reflects this somewhat in its programming and in its overall tone, which is much more subdued than on previous albums, despite the rhythms in the music. It's all new material for the quartet, coming from Brazilian, Cuban, Mexican, and Peruvian composers, which, although it fits under the "Latin" umbrella, seems too disjointed to those familiar with the distinct musical heritages of those countries. The tracks also reflect the different incarnations of the ensemble. Meditango and Besame Mucho were recorded with Steljes and cellist Kristina Reiko Cooper. Other tracks feature clarinetist Kornel Wolak and cellist Carina Reeves, both of whom were the last to join the group before this album. Wolak doesn't have quite the supple tone or flexibility that Steljes had, but he is a fine addition, nevertheless. The Penderecki String Quartet and pianist/composer Hilario Durán are also among the guest musicians here. Durán's Suite Latinoamericana is the one new work (the rest being old standards), and its first movement is the sunniest in the program. The selections are a combination of melancholy with warmer, more relaxed or wistful feelings, opening with Manhã de Carnaval (from Black Orpheus), sung by de Sotto. He doesn't seem quite as comfortable with Portuguese as he is with other languages. Technically, the quartet's playing and ensemble work really can't be faulted, but the entire album -- pleasant as it is -- just doesn't have the energy, excitement, or the sense of carefree enjoyment of playing music together that marked the group's first couple of albums.
AllMusic Review by Patsy Morita
|Suite Latinoamericana, for clarinet, violin, cello, string quartet & accordion|