November 18, 2014
Most string quartets talk a blue
streak (musically speaking) in
German and are fluent in French,
Russian, Hungarian, Czech and
American, as well. Italian? Not so
much, at least not in music after the
baroque era, when the Italians ruled
the roost. So it was a rare treat to
hear an all-Italian program (without
a baroque item in the bunch) played
by the visiting Quartetto di
Cremona, Nov. 16 in Temple Beth-El
for the San Antonio Chamber Music
The members of the string quartet,
established in 2000 when they were
students at the Academia Walter Stauffer in Cremona — once home to the famed Amati, Stradivari and Guarneri workshops — are Cristiano Gualco and Paolo Andreoli (violin), Simone Gramaglia (viola) and Giovanni Scaglione (cello). They are now based in Milan.
lovely song, nicely shaped by Mr. Scaglione. Respighi’s quartet partakes (to a degree) of the whole-tone scale previously employed by Debussy and Ravel in their string quartets, but Respighi’s music seems less harmonically free than theirs. Some of the music is exhilarating, however — notably the ascending, striving motive that weaves though the Appassionato trio of the third movement. The main interest in the Boccherini quartet is an exploratory central slow movement; the opening allegretto and closing menuetto are pleasant-enough excursions in the early classical style.
The performances were alert and engaged. Mr. Gualco on first violin produced a much brighter and assertive sound than his fellows, giving the ensemble an odd balance, but all the players made impressive individual contributions.
A rare treat – chamber music from Italy
The program held quartets by two composers whose main field was opera — Giuseppe Verdi’s String Quartet in E Minor (1873) and Giacomo Puccini’s Crisantemi (1890), both of which were dashed off quickly. Ottorino Respighi wrote a good deal of chamber music, but he is most widely known for coloristic orchestral showpieces such as Pines of Rome. He was represented here by his String Quartet in D (1907). Luigi Boccherini composed chamber music by the truckload. His String Quartet in C, Op. 2, No. 6, was one of nearly 100 works for that contingent — although he is more celebrated for his 141 string quintets. (Some readers may recall hearing several of them when the Boccherini Quintet appeared on this series in the 1980s.)
The fragrant, elegiacal Crisantemi (Chrysanthemums) was the only widely familiar work on the program, and it got a beautiful performance — lively and flexible in line, luxurious in chordings, well-paced. Verdi’s quartet shares the sumptuous melody and robust rhythms of his operas, and the second movement in particular is rather like an opera scene in structure. In the third, prestissimo sections bookend a lyrical center in which the cello pours out a