Venezuela's Simón Bolivar String Quartet consists of lead players from the Simón Bolivar Symphony Orchestra, the showcase ensemble of the country's remarkable music education system known as El Sistema. Graduates of this system are making their marks all over the Western hemisphere and beyond, and this talented young group seems likely to continue the tradition. They have played the works on this release separately in recital, but bringing them together was an inspired idea. All the music is "national," and the players say that it reflected aspects of their own background: Ginastera's String Quartet No. 1 because they are South Americans; Dvorák's String Quartet No. 12 in F major, Op. 96 ("American"), because they are Americans; and Shostakovich's String Quartet No. 8 in C minor, Op. 110, because Russian music has been central to curricula and programming in Venezuela (as it has been in Cuba). But they bring more to the music than these associations. The placement of the angular, extended-Bartókian Ginastera work first is a bold move, and it makes you hear the rest of the music differently and find abstract patterns in generally melodic material. The performance of the Dvorák is a real revelation. The SBSQ, as it is styled in the graphics, brings out the deeper rhythmic structures that link all the work's pentatonic tunes together, taking the finale at an unusually quick clip but successfully linking it to the rest of the work. If there's a flaw here it's the Shostakovich, which doesn't have quite the necessary tragic gravity. But the performance is plenty exciting, with the young players bringing off the work's unusual sonorities effectively. The Simón Bolivar String Quartet is plainly a young group to watch, and this would be a strong recital from a group of any age.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|String Quartet No. 1, Op. 20|
|String Quartet No. 12 in F major, Op. 96 "American"|
|String Quartet No. 8 in C minor, Op. 110|