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Thanks to the vicissitudes of medicine and hygiene, would-be Mozarts – musical geniuses cut off in their prime or indeed before they could reach it – litter the Classical era, from Thos. Linley in England to Joseph Martin Kraus in Sweden. Here are three quiet masterpieces from Spain’s equivalent, Juan Arriaga (1806–1826). As this disc demonstrates, Arriaga’s claim to sharing the same sentence as the divine Mozart is justified by more than their share of a birth date (27 January) and christening name (Chrysostom, as you recall, the late-fourthcentury Archbishop of Constantinople, so named for his gilded eloquence).
The quartets all date from 1824; in the same year, Beethoven was immersing himself in the rich complexities of his late quartets and Schubert was sketching the romantically impassioned ‘Death and the Maiden’ quartet. Arriaga’s rococo-influenced works may seem tame in comparison, but it should be remembered that they are the immediate product of his conservative education at the Paris Conservatoire, directed at the time by Cherubini.
Various of the quartets’ classically elegant movements contain echoes of Haydn and Mozart, whether consciously fashioned or unconsciously imitated. Which is not to the deny the originality of their melodic inspiration or the freshness and drama of their development.
Arriaga’s premature death is generally considered to be due to his workaholism. After just three months’ intensive study with Fétis at the Paris Conservatoire, his teacher declared that there was nothing more he could teach him and, following prizes in counterpoint and fugue in 1823, Arriaga was made Fétis’s teaching assistant. The world will never fully know what it missed out on as a result, but these quartets, especially, are cherished for their uplifting spirit, masterful assimilation of the rich Classical heritage, forward-looking adventure, and – perhaps above all – their artless melodiousness.
“These Quartets are rewarding, particularly in such committed performances.”
“There can be no doubt of the Guarneri’s wholehearted involvement in, and eloquent presentation of these remarkable quartets – their enjoyment of No. 2’s set of variations, for example, is evident and infectious.”
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