Cuarteto Quiroga celebrates its twentieth anniversary with the launch of their latest CD, ATOMOΣ

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Haydn, Beethoven, Bartók, Kurtág: Cuarteto Quiroga (Aitor Hevia, Cibran Sierra [violins], Josep Puchades [viola], Helena Poggio [cello]). 22 Mansfield Street, London, 12.9.2023. (AK)

Haydn – String Quartet in D minor, Op.42
Beethoven – String Quartet in F minor, Op.95
Bartók – String Quartet No.3
Kurtág – Secreta: funeral music in memoriam László Dobszay (world premiere recording)

Formed in 2003, the Spanish group Cuarteto Quiroga celebrates its twentieth anniversary with the launch of their latest CD, ATOMOΣ, to be released by COBRA RECORDS (COBRA 0088) on 15th September 2023.

As an appetiser, on 12th September they presented their CD programme in a superb live concert at 22 Mansfield Street. The magnificent venue, seating about sixty people, is eminently suitable for chamber music concerts; furthermore, it provided some idea of surroundings where some of the Quiroga programme might have been performed at earlier times. Haydn, Beethoven and even Bartók enjoyed the support of generous aristocratic benefactors who used their salons for concerts like the one the Cuarteto Quiroga now presented.

Second violinist Cibrán Sierra gave an exemplary introductory talk before the concert. Speaking without a script in fluent and faultless English, Sierra did not talk down to the audience, he did not focus on trumpeting the group’s virtues. What Sierra gave was a concise and lucid appraisal of each of the pieces on the programme, their significant places in music history and the line of progression between the three pillars of string quartet writing over three centuries: Haydn, Beethoven, and Bartók. Sierra also believes that Kurtág represents the towering pillar in our own century; in fact, Cuarteto Quiroga have performed all of Kurtág’s relevant works.

The Haydn quartet was delivered with effortless baroque/classical style, with light bow strokes, mostly without vibrato. The instruments, in particular the first violin, sang without sentimentality (third movement); humour was united with disciplined style (second movement). The fourth movement was spirited in perfect tempo and with crystal clear polyphonic voices.

In the first movement of Beethoven, strong passion allowed space to the gentle interludes. The cantilena second movement showed the strong musical chemistry between the second violinist and the viola player; the performance of the fourth movement was remarkable for its relaxed virtuosity.

The Bartók quartet was lovingly played with all the skills needed. The players showed that one did not need to be Hungarian to fully grasp Bartók’s musical world (although it clearly helped that Hungarian heavyweights like András Keller and György Kurtág lent their insight to Cuarteto Quiroga.)

The Kurtág piece, about six minutes long, was dedicated to the late László Dobszay, an eminent musicologist and expert on Gregorian chants. Kurtág was a great admirer of Dobszay and studied Gregorian repertoire with him. In his introduction, second violinist Cibrán Sierra specified the piece as ‘poetry of minimalisation’. To my ears, the soundscape of Gregorian chants was more influential than minimalist music, but I might have been influenced by my knowledge of the Dobszay-Kurtág relationship. Either way, the incredible bowing technique of the players served well the sustained slow progress to nothingness, with the cellist delivering the final ‘amen’ with great sensitivity. (The technical know-how of cellist Helena Poggio was fascinating beyond actual cello playing technique: I marvel of how she managed to play the cello in her very high heel shoes – in my cello playing days I did my best to play barefoot whenever I could, but always without heels – and turning the pages of her digital cello part with her foot.)

Cuarteto Quiroga © Josep Molina

Cuarteto Quiroga takes its name from the Galician violinist Manuel Quiroga, apparently one of the most outstanding string players in Spanish music history. Strongly committed to chamber music teaching, players of the quartet hold professorships at the Conservatorio Superior de Música in Zaragoza, Mozarteum University in Salzburg, Musikene in San Sebastián, and at the Real Conservatorio Superior de Música in Madrid. Their students should count themselves fortunate.

Agnes Kory

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