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Cuarteto Latinoamericano performed a handful of Latin American gems with authority, stunning energy, and remarkable grace in Fletcher Opera Theater. The quartet, comprised of Saul Bitrán and Arón Bitrán, violins, Javier Montiel, viola and Alvaro Bitrán, cello, have been heard to wide acclaim all over the world since 1982. They were musicians-in-residence at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh from 1988 through 2008. Since 2005 they have been a recipient of the México en Escena grant provided by the Mexican government through its National Fund for Culture and Art.
The opening work was Quartet No. 1 by the well-known Brazilian composer Héitor Villa Lobos. This work was written as a three movement piece subtitled “Suíte graciosa” in 1915 and later (ca. 1947) was expanded to six movements. The opening Cantilena (song) begins with a gentle lyrical tune, has a brief middle section that is a bit livelier, and then closes with the opening tune. Brincadeira (playing) makes use of pizzicato and rhythm to tell its story. Canto Lirico (lyrical song) is played with a touch of sadness conveyed through a beautiful melody. Canzonetta (songlike) is a brief lilting melody. Meloncolia (sorrow) is a sweet sad song, perhaps of an unfulfilled lover. Saltando como un saci (Jumping like a jumping bean) is enough to describe this movement with its rhythmic intricacies and lively pace.
“Música de Feria” (Music for a free day) is the fourth and last quartet by the remarkable Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas (1899-1940) and is in ABA form with the outside sections seeming like running and skipping for joy. The middle section is a bewitching melody passed from first violin to viola, back to first violin, then to cello, etc. Indeed a free day to be enjoyed to its fullest.
“Four for Tango” by the inimitable Argentinian Astor Piazzolla (1921-92) begins with a rolling chord building from the bottom up. It makes use of a variety of techniques including harmonics, playing above the bridge, and drumming on the sides of the instruments. It served as a vigorous, virtuosic, and rousing conclusion to the first part of the concert.
After intermission we heard “Metro Chabacano” composed by Mexican Javier Álvarez (b. 1956) for the opening of a main station of the Mexico City subway. It creates the sense of rolling wheels with rapid sixteenth notes, rhythmic emphasis, and fleeting melodic fragments. (A video of Cuarteto Latinoamericano performing this piece can be seen and heard at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qTA4nouHxjc.)
Next was a piece by Miguel del Aguila, born in Uruguay in 1957 but living in the United States since 1978. Entitled “Presto II,” it features plucked strings, staccato bowing, and mind blowing rhythms played at break-neck speed; it was a real audience pleaser.
The closing work was Quartet No. 1, Op. 20, by the original and inventive Argentine, Alberto Ginastera (1916-83). The first movement, Allegro violento ed agitato, is exactly that – violent and agitated. It begins dramatically with a repeated fanfare-like statement, and then takes off like a swarm of Africanized bees. The quartet played so vigorously that the first violinist lost hold of his bow and it went flying onto the floor of the stage. Hardly missing a beat, he retrieved it with alacrity and finished the piece with his colleagues. The second movement, marked Vivacissimo, is a mostly quiet section which moves indeed with lively speed. The third movement, marked Calmo e poetico, is, again, exactly that. It features a violin solo employing unearthly harmonics and ends in a whisper. The final movement, Allegramente rustico, is a dance of fervor and vigor played with technical fireworks.
It was a real coup of the Raleigh Chamber Music Guild to obtain Cuarteto Latinoamericano for this concert, and their three days of master classes and performances in Raleigh. Their mastery of such a variety of Latin-American music brought much pleasure and insight to their audiences.