The Venezuelan educator and politician José Antonio Abreu has added another string to his bow, one to sit proudly alongside his Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra, firebrand conductor Gustavo Dudamel and a revolutionary approach to music education, El Sistema modern recordings in the catalogue presented in the familiar warm acoustic associated with the Yellow Label.
The main reason for my unreserved praise lies with the viscerally exciting take on the criminally neglected Argentinean Alberto Ginastera’s First Quartet from 1948. There have been several recordings (an initiative which now has its first local teacher based in Adelaide). Comprised of four of his orchestra’s string section leaders, he has devised an exciting young ensemble of the highest order.
In their debut recording, the Simón Bolívar Quartet presents a wisely chosen program bringing together three seemingly disparate composers in Ginastera, Dvorák and Shostakovich. Dvorák’s popular American quartet was written during the composer’s stay in the States and develops its own specific folk motifs – it’s this ingenious idea that brings together a trio of geographically separated composers on this fine disc.
In his Eighth Quartet Shostakovich goes even further, quoting his own earlier Trio Op 67. In itself it’s a lament for the “victims of fascism and war”. Both of these familiar quartets are given excellent performances that reflect the sympathy and bonding of these string players. The bowing is flawless and both works hold no technical fears for these passionate young musicians. Both readings compare favourably with the finest of his three quartets, however the Bolívar’s take on this is without doubt the best in the current catalogue. It is in the work’s complex rhythms that Ginastera takes his folk influences – the gaucho music of the Pampas and the Criollo (a specifically South American song tradition). Rather ingeniously he also incorporates the open- stringed notes of the guitar into the structure of the quartet’s third movement.
Add to this a certain Stravinskian spikiness and Bartók’s vocabulary, and we have a real firecracker of a work! Like Ginastera’s ballets, here is a thrilling ride, energetically and idiomatically performed. Ginastera’s remaining works in the genre were dedicated to and premiered by the legendary Juilliards and as yet, their recordings have not been silvered. So, members of Bolívar Quartet, hopefully your next discographic port of call will be to complete this shamefully ignored cycle of masterpieces.