“Spain Through Strings” = ARRIAGA: String Quartet No. 3 in E flat Major; TURINA: The Toreador’s Prayer; TOLDRA: Sea Views; CASTELNUOVO-TEDESCO: Quintet for guitar and string quartet Op. 143A – Zemlinsky Quartet/Miriam Rodriguez Brüllová, guitar – Praga Digitals multichannel SACD PRD/DSD 250 295, 69:15 [4/9/13] (Distr. by Harmonia mundi) *****:

This is a well-chosen original group of Spanish and Spanish-inspired pieces for string quartet with the last one adding a guitar for a delightful quintet. The string quartet is not my favorite form in music, but I found all four of these works most enjoyable. The opening of the program is probably the most conservative of the works. It is the last of the composer’s three quartets; he hadn’t time to write more due to his short life. Juan Crisotomo Arriaga, who lived early in the 19th century, is known sometimes as The Spanish Mozart.  The Toreodor’s Prayer has been a favorite encore piece and track on many string quartet collections, and is perhaps best known in its version for string orchestra. It shows the influence of Spanish folk music on Turina’s pieces.

Eduardo Toldra, who was unknown to me, lived until 1962, and his quarter-hour work carries the Spanish title Vistas al Mar. It is an evocation of three Catalan poems and uses the cyclic form. The final work was a revelation to me. It grew out of the efforts Andres Segovia made to get the classical guitar recognized as a legitimate concert instrument. He met with composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, who ended up writing a number of works involving the guitar, of which this is one.  It is in four movements, of which the first is in sonata form. The 1950 Quintet has a neo-classical bent, and the guitarist is a lovely and talented young woman who from her very small photo in the notes could be in the same league as the many young female violinists emblazoned on CDs recently. Though a Slovak, from her name I would deduce that there is some Spanish in her background as well.  She performs with many Slovak, Czech and Hungarian chamber musicians, and founded a music festival in Bratislava. The Zemlinsky Quartet, founded in 1994, is one of the top Czech string quartets and records exclusively for Praga Digitals, which is based in France.

The sonics are first rate, as on most Praga SACDs, and the mix of guitar and string quartet sounds to me even more fitting and appropriate than that of piano and string quartet.

—John Sunier