CONSTANTINO GAITO – The Second Quartet

Argentinian Early Modern composer Constantino Vicente Gaito [1878-1945] wrote just two string quartets. Although I hear traces of Debussy, Ravel and Dvorak in this work, I still believe that Gaito has his own unique voice.

The Second Quartet, titled Incaico (Inca), is in three movements.

A solo cello statement opens the work before it bursts into life. The music is very busy and filled with an abundance of melodic ideas and harmonies. Settling into a pastoral section, the cello can be heard with developments of its opening theme. A pizzicato background allows the violins to express in a slightly Spanish style, which is most alluring. A subtle hint of drama leads to several changes in tonality and stronger melodies. This first movement is basically in a Late Romantic style but the threads of Debussy and Ravel give the music a more Modern character. Now the violins start to build with ascending melodic thrusts but soon return to a more measured feeling. A section of sprightly, dancing violins is complemented by rhythmic thrusts from the ensemble. A shrill violin causes the ensemble to return to a passage of rich resonance, and an extended faded ending.

The second movement, marked andante espressivo, features a pizzicato viola motif which, although played in a common time signature, varies its emphasis on different notes, leading to a fascinating feeling. Overlaid on this is a solo violin which crafts an especially attractive melody. With the viola motif continuing, the cello now takes the place of the violin, albeit briefly and brings about a transformation in the music. The viola ceases its rhythm and a sumptuous soundscape unfolds – the violins are trance-like as they move into their upper registers. Slowly the ensemble regathers and the violins adopt a more traditional approach. Again the violins go solo and a pause sees the viola motif return with one solo violin, similar to the opening. A further lush passage is brief and the music progresses into a galloping rhythmic pattern, which again sounds Spanish. There is a good deal of tension here with unusual rhythmic punctuations set against violin melodies. When this concludes, the two violins once more rise into a higher register for a plaintive duet. Very gently the other instruments resume with subtle harmonies, and a very peaceful mood ensues. The end is a mini-section which unfolds in a beguiling manner.

The final movement commences with the most rhythmic music heard thus far. This jaunty feeling continues with layers of sweeping violin melodies, again sounding Romantic. Now the tempo increases, but not the intensity although perhaps the violins are a little more earnest. Strong chords dominate for a time, however the dynamics are still measured. This feeling continues for an extended period, with some rapid-fire violin lines fuelling the fire. A pause finally brings about a change into a slow, sparse passage where one violin laments in a wonderful manner. Again this is an extended passage which suddenly increases in intensity to conclude.

As previously noted, the composer’s two quartets reveal a unique, uncharacteristically bright Early Modern sound. There are many fine moments and textures to be found here.

The review CD, String Quartets performed by the Sarastro Quartett on the Tradition Recordings label is only semi-available. Amazon US have a copy but not UK. Both sites offer the music as a download.

The disc is on Spotify and the contents can be heard on earsense and YouTube.

Listenability: Surprisingly optimistic, sometimes Impressionistic Early Modern works.

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