In these, their first two recordings for Naxos,
the Madrid-based Bretón Quartet underline their credentials as
specialists in the works of 20th-century Spanish composers. They take
their name from Tomás Bretón, the nineteenth-century composer
who did so much to promote Spanish music and modernise its institutions.
The Quartet, with the help of Naxos, are furthering Bretón's
name and his work, as they bring this first batch of neglected works
to the fore.
The earlier disc, released in 2011, is volume three in a mini-series
devoted to the piano and chamber music of Rodolfo Halffter. Volumes
1 and 2 are reviewed with no small enthusiasm here
One of Halffter's five brothers, Ernesto (1905-89), and their nephew
Cristóbal (b.1930), are both composers, and both have had full
CDs of their works published by Naxos. Of Prussian descent - hence the
Germanic-looking surname (albeit with a silent 'H') - all three were
born in Madrid, and whilst Ernesto and Cristóbal remained there,
Rodolfo settled in Mexico. There is, however, nothing very Mexican-sounding
about his music. Naxos acknowledge this by issuing this disc in their
growing 'Spanish Classics' range. In fact, his basically melodic-tonal
style is more along the lines of Manuel de Falla, whom he knew, and
at times reminiscent of that of his brother Ernesto. Of the three discs
to date (there may or may not be another), this one has Halffter's best
music, combining the quasi-modernist depth of the string quartet works
with the tunefully and rhythmically memorable Cello Sonata.
Like his older contemporary Jesús Guridi, Halffter wrote two
string quartets, although he called the second simply 'Three Movements'
- an ideologically sound idea, perhaps, but commercially dubious. Halffter's
jaunty, melodious String Quartet proper gives a fine demonstration of
just how listener-friendly twelve-tone music can be, a feat he has moreover
repeated elsewhere in his corpus. The Tres Movimientos op.28 is a more
academically-inclined work, whilst the Ocho Tientos offer a "kaleidoscope
of timbres" in a modern but relatively audience-friendly package, eight
characterful studies of considerable technical and expressive virtuosity
lightly sprinkled with colours from Spanish history.
After an admirable solo turn in Halffter's memorable Cello Sonata, John
Stokes signed up to the Bretón Quartet in time for the Guridi
project, following the departure of Beate Altenburg. Some may be surprised
to learn that the Guridi disc adds a fourth by this relatively unknown
composer to the Naxos catalogue, the first for seven years, since his
zarzuela 'El Caserío' (8.557632).
Guridi's Quartets are more tradition-oriented than Halffter's, both
formally and in the folkish flavour of certain movements or passages.
The shorter First Quartet is a fairly sunny work, especially the finale.
In his notes Carlos Magán writes enthusiastically that "Guridi
unquestionably made a key contribution to the genre, indeed one of the
most impressive in twentieth-century Spanish music (and therefore in
the entire history of Spanish quartet writing)". Whether that is quite
true of the First is a moot point, but certainly the Second Quartet
is exceptionally expressive, and really does merit a firm place in the
Indeed, the calibre of music on both discs amply justifies the Bretón
Quartet's faith in 20th-century composers from their country. For Guridi,
being almost the spitting image of Caudillo
Franco was doubtless
a double-edged sword, but the recognition he was accorded during his
lifetime should now be reflected on the wider stage. Halffter does not
quite possess the genius of his nephew Cristóbal - whose own
string quartets are showcased by the Leipzig on MDG ((MDG 307 1671-2)
and the Arditti on Anemos (C33005, 33007) - but the Bretón Quartet
bring it to life with finesse.
Audio quality on the Halffter disc is a little dry, but generally pleasing.
The Guridi, recorded under different auspices, is less satisfying, the
sound rather bright and 'raw' - unattractive to audiophiles, certainly.
The Bretón Quartet members' breathing is rather laboured too,
almost sounding like an affectation - though soft enough in fact to
remain no more than a minor background distraction.
The Halffter CD has detailed notes by Spanish composer Tomás
Marco, three of whose symphonies also appeared recently on Naxos in
the same 'Spanish Classics' series - see review
The cover and inlay also credit 'soloists of the Orquesta de la Comunidad
de Madrid', though what for is unclear.
Contact at artmusicreviews.co.uk
See also review of the Guridi disc by Rob