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Kenneth Keaton
American Record Guide, September 2010

The Latin American Quartet was formed in 1982; most Latin American music for string quartet is in their repertory. The three Bitran brothers, with violist Montiel, are based in Mexico City, but travel and work internationally (they were in residence at Carnegie Mellon University from 1988-2008). They are excellent players with a rich sound and a skilled command of the many special effects this music requires.

A few of these works are playful enough that they could serve as encores. Radames Gnatalli’s ‘Valsa’, Roberto Sierra’s ‘Mambo 7/16’, and Jorge Torres Saenz’s ‘Venus se Va de Juerga’ manage to be both light and complex at the same time. The rest of the pieces are too complex, too serious, too long—fine music, just not encore material.

Stefano Scodanibbio’s Canzoniere Messicano is a set of four popular Mexican songs, each in a plaintive arrangement with odd, harmonic- dominated sonorities. They are split up and programmed all around—as if the constant sound on the border of being in tune would be more effective if not all in a sequence.

Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez’s Cinco para Cuatro is a set of Webern-like miniatures—if Webern had been born in Mexico. Osvaldo Golijov’s three-movement Yiddishbbuk is made up of slashing, expressionist angst, with just enough sounds that are recognizably Judaic to justify the title. This is powerful music—not pleasant, but strong and emotionally affecting.

At just under 14 minutes, Adolfo Salazar’s Rubaiyat is the longest single piece here—also the oldest work, dating from 1928. Salazar was Spain’s most important music critic; like many of Spain’s intelligentsia, he fled the Franco dictatorship and adopted Mexico as his home. This work was inspired by the poetry of Omar Khayyam, filled with exotic atmosphere as it travels through seven imaginary places.

David Stock is a US composer, on the faculty of Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, where he met the Quartet when they were at Carnegie Mellon. Suenos de Sefared is based on the second movement of Stock’s third symphony, with additional material from traditional Sephardic music. It is a haunting and moving conclusion to a fascinating recording.

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