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Jesús GURIDI (1886-1961)
Complete String Quartets
String Quartet No. 1 (1933) [23.23]
String Quartet No. 2 in A minor (1949) [31.52]
Bretón String Quartet (Anne-Marie North (violin I); Antonio Cárdenas (violin II); Iván Martín (viola); John Stokes (cello))
rec. 31 October-1 and 30 November 2011, Musicstry Studios, Madrid, Spain
NAXOS 8.573036 [55.15]

The Naxos ‘Spanish Classics’ series ploughs ahead offering a chance to discover some unknown or little known pieces by composers rarely encountered. In all fairness Guridi is no longer totally unfamiliar. I have the disc, which includes his best-known work the Ten Basque Melodies (8.557110) and another, the vast Sinfonia Pirenaica (8.557631). Both are also from the Naxos stable. You might also come across other Naxos advocates for this composer: the piano works (8.557663) and the stage work The Homestead - El Caserio (8.557632). It’s now good to welcome some chamber music to the catalogue.
Jesús Guridi wanted to find a truly national style using folk-tinged melodies but with an air of high sophistication. Turina and Falla were on a similar quest. Unlike the others however Guridi, along with Jose Usandizaga, who died so tragically young in 1915, were not just Spanish; they were Basque and had an added identity. Their world was not just a matter of castanet rhythms or melodies of a Moorish-Andalusian caste such as play such a prominent role in Falla’s output.
Guridi did not tackle the quartet form until he was not far off fifty although there had been a discarded student attempt. The String Quartet No. 1, which is in four movements, was written at a time when chamber music was becoming much more popular in Spain … even outstripping zarzuela. It has a sonata-form first movement which is the longest, a scherzo and trio-type movement second (actually marked Vivace) and then a mellow Adagio. The excitable finale wraps things up happily. There is nothing especially nationalistic or indeed Basque about the quartet although it’s clear that many of the melodies and harmonies are modally influenced. There are even dance-like sections especially in the finale. This is basically a romantic quartet, which moves effortlessly between profundity of ideas and a sweet sunny disposition. The two contrasting subjects offered in movement one may even remind some listeners of Ravel.
The String Quartet No. 2 of sixteen years later is a little more pungent especially in its outer movements and in the scherzo and trio type movement marked Prestissimo. This comes third this time and can also be quite excitable, dance-like and rhythmic. There are also moments of great melodic beauty and expressive, harmonic warmth. You can hear this in the first movement’s second subject, the passionate Adagio sostenuto and the lyrical, contrasting theme in the finale. It is an arresting, finely crafted work. As Carlos Magán writes in his very worthwhile booklet notes this quartet and indeed the First “fully deserve to be part of the international repertoire”. However one must add that that by 1939 the Second Quartet especially must have seemed rather anachronistic. Now, with such issues having paled into insignificance, we can take it for what it is: an “unquestionable contribution to the genre”.
The Bretón Quartet is amassing a fine reputation especially in the area of Spanish chamber music. They have recorded quartets by Rodolfo Halffter and their namesake Tomás Bretón. I heard them a few years ago playing a marvellous piece by Alfredo Aracil. They are on perfect form here and very much at home. The recording is balanced beautifully and is also forthright yet with space around the individual musicians.
This is definitely worth exploring and at Naxos price you can afford it.
Gary Higginson 

See also reviews by Rob Barnett and Byzantion