Review: Cuarteto Casals 


Ensemble Music Series
Indiana History Center, Oct. 26

click to enlarge The Cuarteto Casals
  • The Cuarteto Casals

The Barcelona based Cuarteto Casals - or the Casals Quartet - did nothing to bring a Spanish idiom to its Ensemble Music season opener on Wednesday. That is to say, in its scheduled program. As though to compensate for this omission, the stringed foursome offered as an encore "The Miller's Dance" from Manuel de Falla's well known ballet music to The Three Cornered Hat. Reportedly a former Cuarteto Casals player made the string quartet adaptation from full orchestra some time ago while the group was waiting in detention at their arrival in Great Britain in getting a passport dilemma resolved.

What the players did have scheduled, however, was a quick survey of three centuries of quartet music: from Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805), through Franz Schubert (1797-1828) to Dimitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) - though not in that order. Boccherini's String Quartet in G Minor, Op. 32 No. 5, came first. Written in 1780, this was almost the "infant" period of this genre, its mature version having been essentially "invented" by Haydn with his Op. 33 set-of-six a year after this one.

So we heard an ingratiating mixture of rococo and galant styles fused into an agreeable four movements, with a most unusual fourth-movement first-violin solo cadenza, played by Vera Martínéz with expressive gusto. In fact, she played all the group's offerings throughout with special gusto; more on that later.

Next came the Shostakovich Quartet No. 9 in E-flat, Op. 117 (1964). (This instead of No. 8, seemingly the one quartet out of his 15 invariably chosen in quartet concerts.) No. 9 is, however, quintessential Shostakovich, with its biting sarcasm filled with the composer's signature "galloping" rhythms, all of which appear to have come from the Finale of Rossini's William Tell Overture. Cast in five connected movements, it is certainly as program worthy as No. 8.

Schubert also wrote 15 quartets, but the first 11 are youthful, immature works. No. 12 is the masterful Quartetsatz in one movement, from 1821. In 1824, with four years left to live, Schubert wrote and completed the first two of his final three quartet masterpieces: the second one the all-too-familiar "Death and the Maiden" Quartet (No. 14) - and this one, the Quartet No. 13 in A Minor, D. 804 ("Rosemunde"), which we haven't heard in Indy for a while. Its second-movement theme is derived from the composer's Rosemunde Incidental Music. The four movements progress from sad and yearning to happy and yearning.

Though the Casals group (named after the great 20th-century Spanish cellist Pablo Casals) played their program with zip, panache and good musicality throughout, first-violinist Martínéz tended to dominate the ensemble, all but covering her violin partner, Cibrá Sierra Vásquez, who is subbing in this tour for their regular second violinist Abel Tomás. Violist Jonathan Brown and cellist Arnau Tomás provided the most pleasing tones and best mutual balance of the four. Regardless of who held the principal line, Martinéz' instrument actually sounded richer and louder than those of her partners. Perhaps she would do well as a violin-concerto soloist with a symphony.

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Tom Aldridge

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