Quartet in G
(1933), Quartet in A minor (1949) Bretón String Quartet (Anne-Marie
North, Violin 1 Antonio Cárdenas, Violin 2 Iván
Martín, Viola John Stokes, Cello)
Naxos CD 8.573036 [55:15]
When I talked with the label’s founder Klauss Heymann a year or so back and mentioned my special affection for the music of Jesús Guridi, I wasn’t surprised to find that he shared that feeling. The Guridi recordings (this is the sixth) have been consistently among the very best in Naxos’s invaluable Spanish Classics Series, and this new recording of his intensely beautiful String Quartets proves another issue to treasure.
The Bretón String Quartet specialise, as we might gather, in the unexpectedly rich heritage of Spanish works for the medium from Arriaga through Chapí and Bretón himself to contemporary figures such as Alfredo Aracil and Tomás Marco. Certainly the keynote of their success here is their natural, easy engagement with the popular Basque music from which Guridi’s inspiration springs. As with Vaughan Williams, many of his themes sound drawn from modal folk sources without actually quoting any song in particular, and the Bretóns relish his combination of lush, moving lyricism and strong rhythmic pulse.
Of the two works it’s the 1949 A minor, with its intensely moving slow movement, which has perhaps the greater focus. In that Adagio Sostenuto Guridi comes close to Tchaikovsky in conveying a sense of the bleeding heart through inspired, plainchant-style melisma. It’s a simple, deeply affecting piece, brilliantly set off by the sunnier harmonic and contrapuntal adventures of the other movements, where Guridi’s technical ingenuity adds spice to the vitality of his folk inspirations. This is one of his very greatest works.
Not that its earlier (1933) sibling lags far behind. The first movement in particular, in traditional sonata form oscillating between G major and minor in a consciously archaic, modal progress, covers a wide emotional spectrum; while the shaded, sunlit melancholy of the slow movement brings Dvorak to mind. Tchaikovsky… Dvorak… the comparisons place Guridi as a late romantic nationalist, a conservative who left musical form much as he found it. Despite the modernist shocks of the late Fantasía en homenaje a Walt Disney for piano and orchestra, and his solo organ masterpiece Tríptico del buen pastor, he was essentially a purveyor of new wine in old bottles. But how sweet, succulent and sustaining such wine is!
I wouldn’t want to be without the Enesco Quartet’s sensitive, emotionally reclusive and tonally smooth readings on their 1986 Ensayo CD. They convey perhaps a subtler sense of religious mystery in the A minor’s slow movement. The Bretóns by contrast are much more directly heart-on-sleeve, characterful and engaging, with a more finely-honed sense of Guridi’s structures and dramatic contrasts. Their recording is closer, more detailed and satisfyingly ripe. There’s also a 2004 EMI Classics remastering of a classic 1958 LP of the A minor quartet with the Agrupación Nacional de Música de Cámara led by Luis Antón; the heartfelt urgency of their playing stands easily besides the new Naxos, but their recorded sound is thin and wiry. The Bretóns’ pungent advocacy leaves us in no doubt that Guridi’s pair deserve a place in the pantheon of great string quartets. This is the disc to have.
© Christopher Webber, 2013
24 May 2013