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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Paganini Quartet - String Quartets by Ginastera and Lajtha (1956)

Alberto Ginastera has long been one of my favorite 20th Century composers and I especially like his string quartets. I had never heard any music by Lajtha until listening to this recording. I digitized this recording from a vinyl copy in my campus' library collection. Read the liner notes below for more info on this recording.

Alberto Evaristo Ginastera, the Argentine composer whose First String Quartet is recorded here for the first time, is gradually gaining popular recognition in the United States. He was born in Buenos Aires on April 11, 1916, and has been making music since early childhood. He studied at the National Conservatory of Music and Drama in his native city, and after graduating with highest honors became Professor of Composition there—a position he still occupies. In 1937 composer-conductor Juan Jose Castro conducted the symphonic suite of Ginastera's first major work, a ballet based on an Indian legend, Panambí. In 1940, the ballet itself was performed and promptly won the Ballet Award of the Colon Theatre, after Ginastera had won the 1938 Music Prize of the Argentine National Commission of Culture for his Cantos del Tucumán (for voice, flute, violin, harp and 2 drums).
In 1941 came another ballet, Estancia, commissioned by the American Ballet Caravan. In 1942 he was awarded a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship and ultimately visited the United States in 1946-47, when many of his works were performed by the NBC Symphony, the League of Composers in New York, and the Pan American Union. He then wrote works for various chamber groups, for harp, voice, piano, organ, chorus and orchestra. Some of these were heard at Music Festivals here and abroad. His commissioned Piano Sonata created a stir at the ISCM Pittsburgh Festival in 1952 and was selected for performance at ISCM's Festival in Oslo in 1953. Pampeana No. 3, commissioned by the Louisville Orchestra, was given its premiere late in 1954, winning a warm response.Among Ginastera's other principal works are: Salmo CL, Sinfonía elegíaca, Obertura para "El Fausto Criollo," Variaciones Concertantes for chamber orchestra, Sinfonía Porteña, Concierto A rgentino for piano and orchestra, Hieremiae prophetae lainentationes for a cappella chorus, Dúo for flute and oboe, Pampeana No. I for violin and piano, Pampeana No. 2 for 'cello and piano, Danzas Argentinas for piano, Malambo for piano, and an assortment of songs, children's pieces and incidental music for several Argentine films.

Ginastera's style is clear, his technique most orderly, his utterance agreeable. He makes an attempt at reconciling national and international traits, for his inspiration clearly emanates from the rich folklore of his native land. The elemental rhythms and melodies of the Argentine plains are a part of him, and he uses them with originality and refinement—even if only as thematic background. Ginastera's music is always rich in substance, in the field of the contemporary without any loss of feeling, and imbued with an intensely personal element. The composer manifests a high degree of craftsmanship and speaks authoritatively and entertainingly.

His First String Quartet, composed in 1948, won the Asociación Wagneriana de Buenos Aires Prize, and in 1951 was selected for performance at the 25th International Society for Contemporary Music Festival in Frankfurt, where it was considered outstanding. Its rhythms and melodic elements are those of the pampas, and Ginastera was praised for his "spontaneous and excellent musicality." It is a fresh work—brilliant, forceful and definitely of virtuoso proportions, for the composer writes with genuine exuberance and much originality, demanding of the players all the special ricks of the trade, from harmonics to col legno, from glissando to spiccato. There is definite direction, nevertheless, and the work not only fascinates but satisfies both players and listeners.

The first of the usual four movements, Allegro violento ed agitato, is in sonata form with two principal subjects, preceded by a brief introduction, whose elements generate the first subject and the coda.

The second movement, Vivacissimo, is in scherzo form, divided in three parts, with contrasting rhythms in an atmosphere of changing sonorities. The admirable third movement, Calmo e poetico, corresponds to the ternary lied: the first violin presents the subject against the background of guitar strings. A 'cello cadenza introduces the second section, whose subject is built on the first one. The recapitulation of the first section is shortened, and the movement ends with the chord with which it began. The fourth movement, Allegramente rustico, is an elaboration of the rondo form with two alternating subjects. The refrain's characteristic is the perfect fifth played spiccato (spring how). With each repetition the refrain is heard with stronger sonority.

Like Bartók and Kodály, László Lajtha is a distinguished Hungarian composer, conductor, writer, and authority on folk music. Born in Budapest on June 30, 1892, Lajtha studied at the Academy of Music there. At the same time he read law and obtained his degree in 1913. In 1910 he became associated with the folk music movement of Bartók and Kodály, and joined their collecting expeditions, which Ile has continued ever since. Extensive sojourns in Leipzig, Geneva and Paris during 1910-13 greatly enlarged his horizon. On his return he joined the staff of the Ethnographical Department of the Hungarian National Museum. In 1919 he became Professor of Corn-position and Chamber Music, later also of Aesthetics and Theory of Magyar Music at the National Conservatory. After World War II he was made honorary director, and remained until 1949 when the Institute ceased to function.

Despite his devoted studies, research, teaching and travels—he had his greatest success in Paris—he found time for composing prolifically. Other activities were added. In 1926 he became choirmaster at the Budapest Calvinist Church. Together with Bartók he participated in the first international Congress of Folk Art in Prague (1928), which, incidentally, antedates the organization of the International Folk Music Council by some twenty years. In 1929 he won the Coolidge Prize for his String Quartet No. 3, and a year later he was appointed music expert of the Institute of Intellectual Cooperation, a League of Nations organization. In 1941 he organized a chamber orchestra, which he conducted until 1944. In 1945 he became director of music of the Hungarian Broadcasting Service. In 1947 he was largely responsible for setting up the International Folk Music Council, and while in London he finished his Symphony No. 3 and Variations for Orchestra. The Hungarian State Kossuth Prize was given to him in 1951 in recognition of his work with Hungarian folk music, for he had completed the investigations in areas largely left untouched by Bartók and Kodály, resulting in a rich harvest, not yet fully evaluated. In 1952 he assumed another professorship, supervising musical folklore research at the Budapest Academy of Music.

As a teacher he has influenced many—and particularly towards French and Latin culture in general, to which his own attachment is readily discernible in the quality of his musical inspiration and expression. Thus he has proved an exception among his Hungarian contemporaries who lean towards the Germanic.

Stylistically, Lajtha had an early idiom which reflected the experimental tendencies of our century: Lisztian virtuosity with Debussy influences and harmonic complexities. A later change of direction stressed contrapuntal aspects, which also led to a pre-occupation with chamber combinations. Typical of this period are his third and fourth String Quartets. Then came another shift: the return to chordal structure of diatonic purity. Lajtha re-discovered the far from exhausted potentialities of the common chord—and as ever, melody prevailed ! And finally the return to a simplified harmonic basis, resulting in a more euphonious texture. With his superior technical equipment, his musical grammar has become condensed and cogent, and his music is a beautiful balance between technique and inspiration.

Much of the vitality of Lajtha's music stems from a rhythmic drive, derived from folk music impulses, for Lajtha absorbed this element more readily than Bartók or Kodály. But the Magyar influence is less obvious, chiefly because Lajtha is more interested in the melodic shape and form of traditional materials, regardless of their peculiarly national characteristics. This, of course, permits a considerable stylistic freedom of treatment, yet the Magyar spirit and flavor permeate all—from his Italianized writing to the dance and contrapuntal compositions modelled on lassical French prototypes. It also allows for the use of popular tunes, often assuming allusive quotation, often subjectivized with elaborate figuration. Here he shows an affinity with native 19th century romanticism, which was rejected by the very generation to which Lajtha himself belongs ! The Quartet No. 7, composed in 1950, is a good example of the distillate of Lajtha’s craft and invention: it is lively and full of good humor, clear and direct. The writing is brilliant and effective, very much Hungarian in character, with themes that are elusively related. The late Olin Downes called it a "skillfully written work, with quite a hit of paprika for seasoning." Perhaps not a very profound work, it is nevertheless refreshingly artful, both in idiom and material. The slow movement, in particular, possesses a hauntingly "legendary atmosphere."—Boris Erich Nelson

About the Paganini Quartet...

The famed Paganini Quartet takes its name from the instruments it uses —all owned at one time by Niccolo Pagan and all made by Stradivarius over 200 years ago. The Quartet was formed in 1945 and gave its first concerts in the United States in the follow g year. Since then the Quartet has played countless concerts in this country, in Canada, and in Europe, being acclaimed everywhere as one of the finest string quartets before the public today.

Individually, the members of the Quartet have distinguished backgrounds. Henri Temianka, born in Scotland of Polish parents, is widely known as soloist and chamber music performer as well as through his commentaries, lectures and articles. Messrs. Rosseels and Foidart, both born in Belgium, were prominent quartet players in Europe and taught at the Royal Academy in Brussels. Lucien Laporte, also a native Belgian, has for a long time been identified with the musical life of this country as soloist, chamber music performer and teacher. All the members of the Quartet now make their homes in California.
Track List:

QUARTET No. 1 Alberto Ginastera
  1. Allegro violento ed agitato
  2. Vivacissimo
  3. Calmo e poetico
  4. Allegramente rustico

QUARTET No. 7, Op. 49 Laszlo Lajtha
  1. Prestissimo
  2. Molto tranquillo
  3. Menuet (Quasi allegro, grazioso)
  4. Molto vivace
Download Link: Enjoy the Music!
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