RUPERTO CHAPÍ – A Spanish Romantic

Spanish Romantic composer Ruperto Chapí y Lorente [1851–1909] wrote four string quartets. Interestingly they were all written over a four year period, just before he died. I am going to discuss String Quartet No. 2 in F Major, which was composed in 1904.

The Second Quartet opens with a Spanish-sounding, questioning melodic violin line, the length of which is eight bars, and is repeated once. The line is in a call and response manner, with silent bars delineating the conversation and on the second iteration it is the cello that responds. It is quite a masterful piece of orchestration with the accompaniment only playing on certain bars. The composer makes complex layers out of simple structure, which I believe is central to his style. I don’t think I could explain it any better – you would have to hear it for yourself. The basic line is then reconstructed melodically, but with the same rhythm, and is harmonised. A short motif is now repeated rapidly, and leads to a march-like feeling, and eventually we are back into classic Romanticism. A pause brings a recapitulation of the complete opening and there are constant references to the opening melody as the music progresses. A sprightly passage has an excitable violin leading another march feeling. The dynamics ebb and flow as the ensemble investigate harmonic and rhythmic variations on the main theme. A virtuoso violin melody occasionally interrupts proceedings but basically the rhythmic dominates the melodic in this movement. Nearing the end, the cello re-presents the main theme, basically solo. A brief, sparse passage gives way to more intensity and we hear the harmonised theme again, one more time. Not surprisingly, there is a rush to the end, which is a series of strong chords.

The next movement is mellower, and that is a relief. A series of almost Haydnesque moments unfold and lyricism prevails. Slowly a recognisable melody is heard, harmonised with lush chords. The texture thus far is sparse, with a flavour of early Beethoven being achieved. Rhythm takes a back seat here and Romantic harmonies are in order. Now a taut, descending ensemble line brings some tension. The same melodic motif from the opening is still being re-presented, at different dynamic levels and textures. A violin rises into its high register and the ensemble brings about a sense of forward movement, for the first time. A violin and cello dialogue is brief and the sparsity returns. The violin soars gently into its shrill zone and a gentle finish occurs.

Pizzicato strokes introduce the third movement and dominate the opening. An extended passage of soft violin tones is interrupted by a waltz-like section, without pizzicato, allowing the violins to craft further Romantic melodies, although there is always a slight Spanish tinge to the music. With the return of rhythmic pizzicato, the violins continue to express in short, discrete phrases, a feeling which proceeds to the end. I have to say that this does become a little tedious – I presume the movement is meant to contrast with those around it.

The final movement is again rhythmically focussed, with quite varying levels in the dynamics. Wispy melodic sections, with some percussive pizzicato strokes are heard as the ensemble dissects the opening melodic lines. There are also some charming, harmonised melodic phases which normally bring about more rhythmic tension. A dark, foreboding moment is a fabulous sound, totally different to anything heard so far. Now the music sweeps into classic Spanish melodies again but it is not long before the composer’s rhythmic propensity propels the work to a dynamic conclusion.

This is music with not a note out of place and I don’t quite know what to make of that. Being written in Spain, over a hundred years ago, I suspect the country was quite insular then. It is definitely a Romantic work but it is also replete with Spanish flair, texture, excitement, and modal melodies. I don’t think I quite understood it.

The review CD, Ruperto Chapí: String Quartets Nos. 1 & 2 is on the Sono Luminus label, and performed by Cuarteto Latinoamericano, an ensemble I seem to regularly encounter. This is available on Amazon US and UK. I couldn’t locate any recordings of Quartets Nos. 3 and 4, although I do have them, and prefer the later to the earlier, in this case. If they had been available I would have preferred to discuss them.

The CD is on Spotify and YouTube, while earsense has all four string quartets.

Listenability: Perfectly and strictly composed Spanish Romantic works.


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