The Cuarteto Casals will perform Friday March 1 in Shannon Hall on the UW-Madison campus.
Cuarteto Casals was founded in 1997 at the Escuela Reina Sofia in Madrid. They are named after great 20th-century Catalan cellist Pau (Pablo) Casals.
Members of the quartet are Vera Martinez Mehner and Abel Tomas, violins; Jonathan Brown, viola; and Arnau Tomas, cello.
The group achieved international recognition after winning First Prizes at the London and Brahms-Hamburg competitions.
See this post in The Well-Tempered Ear.
I spoke by phone with quartet violist Jonathan Brown the evening before the Madison concert. I asked what he found interesting about each off the pieces on the program.
Franz Joseph Haydn, String Quartet in C Major, op. 33, no. 3 (“The Bird”)
“Listen for the two-note motif at the beginning. Haydn weaves this through all four movements in a very subtle but clear way. The piece is surprising. It is unified, but has great contrast. The scherzo is sotto voce and the strings play in the lowest register. Then, in the trio, the two violins play in the highest register. The last movement has a fast folk dance that’s full of surprises. It really embodies what’s best about Haydn’s wit. And it’s touching. The slow movement is very beautiful and personal.”
Bela Bartok, String Quartet No. 3
“We wanted to draw a connection between the Austro-Hungarian music of the 18th century and Austro-Hungarian music of the 20th century. And in fact the two-note motive from the Haydn is used, in a totally different way, in the Bartok quartet. So I think Bartok was also very interested in not only folk-inspired music, as in the Haydn, but in music inspired by nature, bird calls and insects and so forth. The Bartok Third Quartet has certain similarities to Haydn, and at the same time, it’s a totally different language. So that pairing is a good example of what we look for in programming, in terms of continuity, but at the same time, very contrasting pieces.”
Henry Purcell, Fantasies for String Quartet (selected works)
“This is the earliest music that we play. It was written five years before J.S. Bach was born, which is extraordinary to think about. These pieces are early examples of the perfection of four-voice writing, and what’s possible. They’re harmonically daring, which is why we wanted to put them between the Bartok and Debussy, to show that, as complex or as innovative as composers had become by the 20th century, harmonically and contrapuntally speaking, in the 17th century–even before Bach’s time–composers were doing the same thing.
So in some ways, the most surprising piece on the program may be the Purcell Fantasies, which are incredibly beautiful and full of wrenchingly dissonant clashes as well.”
Claude Debussy, Quartet in G Minor, op. 10
“This is one of my favorite pieces to play. One reason we chose this piece is that, for the last two years, we have been playing almost exclusively Beethoven. We have played the entire Beethoven cycle many times. We wanted something different, that would give us a breather from the concentrated intensity of Beethoven. We were excited to play French music again, and Debussy. The name of this quartet was ‘the first quartet.’ So Debussy obviously had in mind, at some point, to write another quartet. But more specifically to this program, it’s another piece that begins with a motive in the beginning, like the Haydn and the Bartok, and the motive serves to unify the entire piece.
“We thought it would be interesting, after having started in Central Europe–Austria and Hungary in the first half of the concert–to go to the geographical margins of Europe, with works by English and French composers.”
Nota Bene. The quartet’s the first box set of the Beethoven cycle is available. The second box set will come out in March. Copies will be available at Friday’s concert.