The Casals and Quiroga Quartets or, both mounts, Quiroga and Casals celebrate anniversaries and accumulate prizes. It is one of the best musical news that has given in recent years a country traditionally barren in this area. In addition, the seed of his example has caught on an increasingly fertile soil and we could say that we are now close to being installed in a certain quartetry normality, with various groups that usually play an inexhaustible repertoire both here and in other countries. And it is curious that these two very experienced quartets decided to be baptized at the time with the surname of two instrumentalists, the cellist Pablo Casals and the violinist Manuel Quiroga, who were authentic rare birds in their time and that enjoyed in life a huge international prestige. Time has shown that the choice of those young people was not a bold or reckless decision, but a mixture of sincere homage and deferred payment of a debt of gratitude.
The Quiroga Quartet received the National Music Award last year (the Casals preceded it in 2006), a sort of imprimatur that usually endorses young but already mature performers with a solid international career behind them. El Quiroga is reinforcing this aspect through the collaboration with highly prestigious instrumentalists: a few months ago he played with Martha Argerich (and will do it again in April), last year it was reinforced with the presence of the violist Veronika Hagen (member of the quartet homonymous) and Madrid has just come with Jörg Widmann, a gifted of the interpretation, direction and composition that unites ovations and provokes admiration wherever he goes. Your oratory ARCHE, for example, was the highlight of the multiple opening of the Hamburg Elbphilharmonie, in three weeks will premiere at the Staatsoper in Berlin the revamped version of his opera Babylon and is a very familiar figure in the National Auditorium, because two seasons ago he was a resident artist of the season of the National Center for Musical Diffusion, which allowed, among other things, know in scoop their Quintet with clarinet, which premiered himself with the Hagen Quartet. And those who were there in 2010 will not have forgotten for sure the Quintet with clarinet of Brahms that he played in the Chamber Room with the sadly missing Arcarte Quartet.
Works by Bartók, Eötvös and Weber. Jörg Widmann (clarinet) and Quiroga Quartet. National Auditorium, February 9.
Two other Quintets with clarinet have sounded this time: an absolute novelty, Joyce, of the Hungarian composer and conductor Peter Eötvös, and the strut of the repertoire for this instrumental ensemble that gave birth, before Brahms and after Mozart, Carl Maria von Weber. As a portico, the Quartet no. two from another Hungarian creator, Béla Bartók, written during the First World War. Once their interpretation by the Quiroga Quartet was over, the strengths and weaknesses of their version seemed clear. Among the first, it highlights, by far, its ample arsenal of tools to play together and to listen to each other in all possible combinations. It's nice to see the constant gestures, the looks, the corporal approaches of those instrumentalists who, in a certain passage, play identical, parallel or complementary lines. There is an enormous amount of previous work in the analysis of the score, of conceptual rigor, of very meticulous essays, but the problem is – and here the main weakness appears – that so many good details, a work of preparation so arduous, seem to impede, one side, the necessary spontaneity at the moment of the concert (everything sounds overly premeditated, with no margin for a spark of inventiveness or an unexpected change of course on the fly) and, on the other, they contribute to dilute the great form, the great arch that he must draw music (always essential in Bartók), which strives to be heard among this succession of excellent miniatures. His is, so to speak, a superb work with the microscope (and it is perhaps significant in this regard that three of his instrumentalists play with a general score), but one longs for sharper profiles from the middle distance, as when we change perspective and we move away a little to capture all the complexity and globality of a painting.
The other weak point of the Quiroga Quartet is its dynamic spectrum, especially above. They gave us admirable pianissimi, perfectly plastered, splendid half voices, but they barely sounded fortissimi as such, resounding, dry, powerful, like those required, for example, the fierce second movement of Bartók's work. Sometimes I was surprised to see more vibrato in the left hand that real sound, when it is the first that must mold the second, not vice versa. Broadening its dynamic spectrum would undoubtedly mean that its musical ideas, always accurate, congruent and carefully elaborated, would see its expressive power reinforced.
Everything improved with the incorporation of Jörg Widmann, a much more libertarian musician who did a lot to bring out the best virtues of Quiroga, which are many, in the Quintets of Eötvös and Weber. The former derives from a work that was also programmed by the National Center for Musical Diffusion at the Reina Sofía National Art Center Museum in 2016, which was premiered by the Calder Quartet and the soprano Barbara Hannigan. The vocal part of that Joyce, then a movement of a tripartite structure, is now entrusted, mutatis mutandis, a clarinet and inspiration is still the very musical eleventh episode, Sirens, of the Ulises from James Joyce: "It introduces us to the male protagonist, Leopold Bloom, wandering among attractive waitresses through conveniently vigorous musical gestures," says Peter Eötvös about his piece. The linguistic findings of the Irish writer inspire in the composer a music full of fantasy and, above all, humor. This is reflected again and again in continuous glissandi, of short, medium and long range, in the five instruments, sometimes interrupted theatrically by themselves, as when, in the sixth movement, Widmann made fun of his classmates, abruptly putting a stop to an incipient danceable passage. This same movement closes with a comical design in second and third, that the clarinetist has to interpret with the technique of the Flatterzunge, followed by a serious note marked fortissimo. And, a few bars before the end, second violin, viola and cello should sound, literally, "like birds." Humor, contrasts, extreme registers, inventiveness in abundance, freedom: James Joyce in its purest form.
In the second part, without the pressure inherent to a premiere, and more with the extreme technical difficulty that imposes Joyce To the five instrumentalists, the Quiroga Quartet and Jörg Widmann dedicated themselves, much more relaxed, to enjoy and enjoy. The Quintet with clarinet Weber is a favorite work of his compatriot, who shows in her not only his virtuosity, but also that way of making enthusiastic, spontaneous and liberating music that Widmann infected, and not a little, his classmates. The classical language has always been very good for the Spanish quartet, which here accompanied and wrapped Widmann with care, allowing him to expand at ease in the lyricism of the work. The five made authentic chamber music, the title, by the way, of the first poetic collection of a still very young James Joyce. Chamber music It opens with these two verses: "Strings on the ground and in the air / make sweet music". The perfect definition, with the addition of the clarinet, of the second part of the concert.