Lafolia

t’s been said a hundred times in fifty different ways and needs to be said again (and again): were it not for fiercely dedicated independents such as David Lefeber’s Metier label, music lovers with a taste for adventure would be far less served. This Catalan string quartet disc is a remarkable release.

We begin at the brilliant surface. The recording itself, the venue an English church, (Caudillo Lefeber’s also the engineer) is about as good as they get. This is exemplary string sound and the ambient space is exactly right (contrary to one’s general opinion of the overly resonant, midrange-thin character of English chamber-music recordings). The Kreutzer Quartet plays with precision, heart, and soul. The annotator, first violinist Peter Sheppard Skaerved, writes of a Catalan School, along with references to other composers that the sub-connoisseur may find tough going. Not to fret. Your reporter, likewise ignorant of differences among Spanish schools of the 20th century, fails to detect a stylistic or spiritual lineage — a commonality, if you like — among these quartets, yet they impress me, the four, as unique and uniquely engaging and therefore in need of discovery and dissemination. Once again, up Metier! One point our annotator makes is certainly well taken: that musiccreated and performed outside what we like to think of as centers of great economic and cultural significance is too often disregarded. I find myself both guilty of this attitude and much chastened by what I hear emitting from my speakers.

Miguel Roger’s second string quartet of 1994 impresses as perhaps the most daring in terms of departure from the richly Romantic foundation from which the program takes flight, yet nothing here could ever be confused with anything partaking of full-tilt modernism along the lines of Nono, say, or the New York School, though we do hear a great deal of atonality that, in the case of Soler’s fifth quartet of 1995 especially, serves the music’s elegiac mood most handsomely well. I’m listening as I write to Sardˆ’s 1978 Quartet as, in effect, a running reminder of how passionately juicy this Catalan music is. Maybe I ought to reconsider my comment about one’s failure to detect a Catalanesque character. Let’s go back to that “richly Romantic foundation.” I remain yet largely a stranger to Catalonian musical culture, but I think I’ve succeeded in detecting (as will you) a rich vein of agreeably histrionic expressivity — and I intend that as praise — common to the four quartets. Whatever, marvelous stuff.

—Mike Silverton