ESSENTIAL RECORDINGS
CRISTOBAL HALFFTER - String Quartets


CRISTOBAL HALFFTER - String Quartets 1, 2 and 7 - Leipzig String Quartet - 760623167121 - Released: December 2010 - MDG 3071671

I must say, the more I listen to the chamber music of Spanish composer Cristobal Halffter (1930-), the more fascinated I become. A previous review of mine on his String Quartets Nos. 1, 3 and 6 had made clear his severe demands imposed on the players regarding tempo, complex rhythms, pinpoint accuracy in ensemble playing as well as total individual expressive freedom, and so on. Well having now heard String Quartet No. 2 (Mémoires) from 1970, and String Quartet No. 7 (Espacio de Silencio) written in 2007, you can add emotional acuity, depth of expression, infinite degrees of dynamic perception and total immersion into the music's spirit. His music is not solely an intellectual pursuit as it is for many other living composers. It is a living organism which, by inclusion of past generation strands in its DNA, has evolved into an amalgam of old and new, traditional and bizarre, past and future, with fascinating results.

In 1970, the bicentenary year of Beethoven's birth, chamber works were commissioned from various composers to commemorate the event. Halffter's contribution was the Quartet No. 2 which deals with memories. Some of those memories are clear and direct references to Beethoven's own music, whilst others are concealed autobiographical references. After a long, quiet, bizarre and phantomic introduction, at the 3:33 mark, Halffter inserts a clear reference to one of Beethoven's warmest melodies from his own final String Quartet in F major op. 135. The same wonderful melody used by Gustav Mahler as one of the main motifs of the last movement of his Third Symphony. The strange effect the inclusion of that warm melody creates after the mysterious introduction is almost supernatural. And this is only one of the many memorable moments to be experienced within this composer's music.

It goes without saying that the Leipzig String Quartet holds a long and substantial record of excellence for everything they've recorded in the past. An impressive collection, most of which on the MDG label, ranging from Bach to Cage, and almost everything in between. Now the music of Cristobal Halffter can be added to their list of accomplishments, and might prove to be a benchmark for other ensembles to surpass.

Jean-Yves Duperron - December 2010