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Support us financially by purchasing this from
Andrés ISASI (1890-1940)
String Quartets - Volume 3
String Quartet No, 1 in G Manor Op. 11 (1911 rev. 1914) [23:58]
String Quartet No. 5 in C minor Op. 32 (1921) [24:45]
Violin Sonata in F minor Op. 25 (1917) [23:14]
The Isasi Quartet (Anna Bohigas (violin 1), Enekoitz Mantines (violin 2), Karsten Dobers (viola), Teresa Valente (cello)); Marta Zabaleta (piano)
rec. 2009/13, Château d’Arcangues, France; Auditorium of the J. C. Arriaga Conservatory, Bilbao, Spain
NAXOS 8.572462 [72:10]

This constitutes the third and final disc Naxos have dedicated to the string quartets of Basque composer, Andrés Isasi. Indeed Naxos have served this composer well, this being the fourth CD of his music, which is more than all the other record companies together have managed. The Naxos recording of the Symphony No. 2 was reviewed here and here. The earliest Isasi disc the site has surveyed forms volume 4 of Claves' 'Basque Music Collection' (review).

I remember being somewhat disappointed by the music offered on the first release in the String Quartet series (8.472463), so much so that I still have not got Volume 2 (8.572464) and after repeated listening to this disc, it will be a while longer before I decide to invest in it. The problem for me is one of musical language; I like my Spanish composers to offer music with a Spanish soul, whereas here we get music clearly influenced by his musical education in Berlin, where his teachers included Engelbert Humperdinck. The music of the quartets, which has been edited by the violist, Karsten Dobers, is more central European than Iberian. The notes talk of the initial influences of Grieg and Dvořák on the development of his style, if so it was early Dvořák rather than his later masterpieces. This is pleasant music which is Germanic in flavour with excerpts which sound almost English. The music harks back to the early romanticism of the mid-nineteenth century, I especially enjoyed the slow second movement of the Fifth Quartet. If there is any Basque influences here they are masked by the heavy cloak of the great Austro-German tradition.

The Violin Sonata, which is the latest work on this disc, at least sounds as if it was composed in the twentieth century. It is here that the Basque influence comes through, though with tinges of late-romanticism in the guise of Richard Strauss. This is my favourite work on the two discs that I own, which is saying something as I am a string quartet nut. The national influences come from Basque melodies and songs which Isasi has developed into his own unique style. The piano writing has a particularly Spanish feel. This is echoed in the violin, which has some particularly Spanish virtuosic phrasing. I could almost say that this work alone is worth the investment in this disc.

The Isasi Quartet has a warmth which accentuates the romanticism of the music, with their first violin, Anna Bohigas, being joined for a spirited and enjoyable performance of the Sonata by the pianist, Marta Zabaleta. Both quartets and the Sonata have been recorded well by the engineers, while the brief notes are very helpful and informative.

Stuart Sillitoe