Italian Postcards = WOLF: Italian Serenade; MOZART: String Quartet No. 1 in G Major, K. 80 “Lodi”; BORENSTEIN: Cieli d’Italia, Op. 88 for String Quartet; TCHAIKOVSKY: String Sextet in d Minor, Op. 70 “Souvenir de Florence” – Quartetto di Cremona/ Ori Kam, viola/ Eckart Runge, cello – AVIE AV2436 66:20 (9/23/20) [Distr. by Naxos] *****:
The Mediterranean sensibility defines this celebration of the ensemble Quartetto di Cremona’s 20th anniversary, in which four foreigners to Italy express their colorful and often visceral impressions of the country. The group expressly commissioned French-Israel composer Nimrod Borenstein’s 2019 Italian Skies for this release. For the Tchaikovsky sextet, two esteemed instrumentalists join the group: Ori Kam, violist with the Jerusalem Quartet, and Eckart Runge, one of the founding members of the Artemis Quartet.
The program opens with Hugo Wolf’s Italian Serenade in G Major (1887), the product of three days’ inspiration. The concise rondo form peppered with recitativo elements provides a dazzling sense of varied color, especially with the likes of Giovanni Scaglione at the cello part in this rendition. The alternation of bowed and plucked strings in 3/8 eventually cedes to a more passionate section in the minor mode, 6/8. Second violin Paolo Andreoli makes his presence felt before the music gleefully returns to its final announcement of the rondo theme.
Mozart wrote his first string quartet during his initial sojourn into Italy (to the town of Lodi, in particular in a tavern) in March 1770. Mozart admired the city’s famed porcelains, and he felt inspired to adopt some of the town’s ancient folk melodies. In four movements, its opening, extensive Adagio features significant drone elements under an expressive first violin part, intoned with sweet fervor by Cristiano Gualco. The shifts in duple and triplet figures already reveal a fine level of musical development for a fourteen-year-old composer. The ensuing Allegro has an aggressive, pseudo-fugal character, biting and brisk. The third movement – in the original edition the last – presents a Menuetto in G Major contrasted with a Trio in C Major. The last movement Rondeau: Allegro appears to have been added by Mozart later, c. 1775. The Quartetto di Cremona casts this movement in warmly graduated motion, building up the motor power of the work that pauses dramatically to allow a chordal passage that adds to the clever charm of the whole.
Nimrod Borenstein (b. 1969) receives a world premiere in this performance of his Cieli d’Italia especially commissioned by this ensemble. The soaring tessitura of the initial impulse, sweetly harmonized and accompanied by plucked strings, evokes the clarity of Italian skies. The playful aspects turn to a more melancholy affect, agitated and featuring some impassioned riffs from the viola (Simone Gramaglia). The strong rhythmic shifts suggest a largesse in a rather compact piece, lasting seven minutes but packed with lyrically attractive and learned effects in a tonal style that maintain our attention.
Tchaikovsky’s grand sextet of 1886, his Souvenir de Florence, may owe debts to the examples of the form by Johannes Brahms, but Tchaikovsky’s sense of balanced phrase nods to his beloved Mozart. From start to finish, the expansive writing for six strings swells to a symphonic and rhapsodic series of impassioned gestures, despite its fidelity to sonata form in movement one. The coda of the Allegro con spirito virtually melts your CD player!
The Quartetto di Cremona, assisted by Ori Kam and Eckart Runge, deliver a sweeping rendition, fervent even in the intimate innocence of the D Major Adagio cantabile e con moto second movement. Each instrument individually has an opportunity to sing the ardent melody. Two Russian melodies, respectively, inform the latter two movements, an Allegro moderato followed by a concluding Allegro con brio e vivace. In the third movement, pairs of instruments realize some potent and exotic unison passages. The diversely emotional tenor of the last movement suggests the composer’s anxious desire to complete music in a form both alien and attractive to his uniquely honed sensibility. This entire disc comes highly recommended.
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