by Daniel Hathaway
Organized in 2004 and named in honor of the Galician violinist and painter Manuel Quiroga (whose career was attenuated after he was struck by a truck in New York City’s Times Square in 1937), the Spanish string quartet Cuarteto Quiroga paid an impressive visit to the Rocky River Chamber Music Society on Monday evening, November 16. Their performances of music by Mozart, Webern, and Brahms at West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church were full of exquisite details but not at the expense of a broad, lyrical narrative uniquely tailored for each work.
Violinists Aitor Hevia and Cibrán Sierra, violist Josep Puchades, and cellist Helena Poggio are the resident quartet in charge of the collection of decorated Stradivarius instruments at Madrid’s Royal Palace. It would be fun to hear them make music with those distinguished tools, but they sounded quite wonderful on the regular instruments they travel with in Wolfgang Amadè Mozart’s Quartet in C, K. 465.
Playing with refinement and judicious use of vibrato, the quartet tapered phrases and made dramatic contrasts in the opening Adagio which gives K. 465 the nickname of “Dissonant.” In the rest of the work, they achieved an almost Beethovenian intensity in certain passages, and a Haydnesque wittiness in others. They tastefully toyed with rubato, and snuck into the “B” theme in the finale with a delightful adroitness that demonstrated a thorough command of the movement’s structure.
Anton Webern’s rarely-performed Rondo, written in 1906 and intended to be a movement of a string quartet, was a beguiling choice for the middle work on the program. Cibrán Sierra, the ensemble’s spokesman, described the eight-minute piece as “music of strange perfumes.” For the most part, it’s a sweetly wistful waltz with meaningful pauses, but eerie, bizarre effects intrude that Sierra likened to other pre-World War I works like Edvard Munch’s 1910 painting The Scream. Ending with portentous pizzicati, the Rondo seems to foreshadow Ravel’s La Valse — written ten years later — as the musical symbol of a dying social order. The quartet put its message across vividly.
Cuarteto Quiroga ended the evening with Johannes Brahms’s Quartet in a, Op. 51, No. 2, playing the work with a lean transparency. These players have the uncanny knack of making crescendos sound louder and more intense without putting on extra musical weight, an approach which allows Brahms’s music to shed some of the adipose tissue that often prevents performances from taking flight. This one was fleet, flexible, and exciting.
The large audience was eager to applaud after almost every movement on Monday night’s program, and they wanted to hear more at the end. The music of Brahms returned for an encore — not in a quartet movement this time, but in a fetching performance of Sierra’s quartet transcription of the charming little choral folksong In stiller Nacht (No. 8 of Brahms’s 26 Deutscher Volkslieder).
Published on ClevelandClassical.com November 24, 2015.
Click here for a printable copy of this article