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Jesús GURIDI (1886-1961)
String Quartets (complete)
String Quartet no.1 in G (1933) [23:23]
String Quartet no.2 in A minor (1949) [31:52]
Bretón String Quartet (Anne-Marie North, Antonio Cárdenas (violins), Iván Martín (viola), John Stokes (cello))
rec. Musicstry Studios, Madrid, 31 October and 1 and 30 November 2011 (no.1); 5-10 February 2012 2012.
NAXOS 8.573036 [55:15]  

Rodolfo HALFFTER
(1900-1987)
Chamber Music - vol. 3
String Quartet, op.24 (1957-58) [16:22]
Cello Sonata, op.26 (1959-60) [15:26]
Tres Movimientos, for string quartet, op.28 (1962) [15:28]
Ocho Tientos, for string quartet, op.35 (1973) [16:42]
John Stokes (cello); Francisco José Segovia (piano)
Bretón String Quartet (Anne-Marie North, Antonio Cárdenas (violins), Iván Martín (viola), Beate Altenburg (cello))
rec. Sede de la Orquesta y Coro de la Comunidad de Madrid, 27-28 October 2007 and 11-12 October 2008 (Sonata).
NAXOS 8.572420 [63:59]

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 and 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 repertoire.
 
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.
 
Byzantion
Contact at artmusicreviews.co.uk

See also review of the Guridi disc by Rob Barnett

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