Dallas — Spain’s first internationally renowned string quartet and one of Spain’s leading solo artists were on stage together Monday evening when the Dallas Chamber Music Society presented the Cuarteto Casals with guitarist Manuel Barrueco at Caruth Auditorium on the SMU campus.
The quartet’s name in itself carries historical weight: the namesake, Spanish-born cellist Pablo Casals, possibly the greatest cellist of the 20th century, spent the bulk of his life in exile in Puerto Rico after the Spanish Civil War. Like the return of Picasso’s painting Guernica to Spain in 1981, the revived association of Casal’s name with Spain underlines the reintegration of the formerly isolated Fascist state into international culture.
Cuarteto Casals, made up of violinists Abel Tomàs and Vera Martinez, violist Jonathan Brown, and cellist Arnau Tomàs, proved a worthy representative of Spain’s post-Franco renaissance. Opening the program solidly in the mainstream of the international quartet repertoire, the ensemble delivered a solid, flawless reading of Mozart’s generally genteel “Hunt” Quartet in B-flat, delivering a particularly fine reading of the aria-like Adagio.
Violinists Tomàs and Martinez traded places from first to second chair for Shostakovich’s Quartet No. 10 in A-flat; here, that composer’s famous frustration and anger emerges, after the gentle, understated opening movement, in the Allegretto serioso second movement. Cellist Tomàs produced a richly sorrowful basso quality in the lamenting third movement, while violist Brown introduced, with just the right touch of darkness, the almost sprightly dance tune that provides the core of the final movement.
I overheard a gentleman at intermission comment to the effect that the first half of the program was the profound part, and the second more entertaining. He rather missed the point: the three brief dance movements by Spanish romantic composer Enrique Granados offered a profundity all their own in the performance by guitarist Barrueco.
Originally composed for piano, the three movements from Granados’ Spanish Dances (“Minueto,” “Villanesca,” and “Zarabande”), as performed by Barrueco, encapsulate the ancient and enduring folk life of Spain. Barrueco presented technically flawless voicing and articulation, combined with a breathtaking sense of phrasing and emotional connection with this music.
Barrueco and the quartet joined for the final work, which returned the agenda to the classical era with the Quintet in D for guitar and strings by Mozart’s contemporary, Italian-born Luigi Boccherini. Boccherini spent most of his career in Spain, and, while he was not a genius on Mozart’s level, this quintet, which offers a famous “Fandango” as its final movement, is full of momentum, clever effects (including humorous glissando passages), and even a part for castanet (taken by cellist Tomàs), here performed with exquisite artistry by these great musicians.