The Dalí Quartet’s Maverick Concerts debut on Sunday afternoon, with pieces exclusively from the Latino repertoire including an in-depth exploration of two works from the mid-century, delighted from start to finish.
Basque composer Juan Crisóstomo Arriaga (1806–1826) was born on what would have been Mozart’s 50th birthday, died before his own 20th, only to be buried, like Mozart, in an unmarked grave. He was known (after his death) as “the Spanish Mozart.” The Dalí’s performance of Arriaga’s final string quartet, No. 3 in E-flat major, evinced the sure and practiced hand of an accomplished composer, all the more startling (and Mozartean) to realize that Arriaga wrote it when he was only 16. Had he lived longer, he would surely have been the toast of the continent. It’s full of charm and familiar 18th-century tropes and gestures dished up with verve and undeniable forward momentum. First violinist Ari Isaacman-Beck took charge in the opening Allegro, his warm and gracious sound preparing the way for the subsequent pleasures. The bird-call effects in the second movement, Andantino, tossed off among the instruments playing in duets, brought Brahms’s Wiegenlied to mind. In the minuet third movement, the Dalí conveyed particularly irresistible good cheer in the perky Trio. The ensemble took the finale, Presto agitato, at full tilt, effectively setting the stage for String Quartet No. 5 by Heitor Villa-Lobos.
A Brazilian composer, conductor, cellist, and classical guitarist, Villa-Lobos is arguably the best-known South American composer of all time. His fifth string quartet (of 17), from 1931, is accessible and engaging, and the Dalí Quartet imbued it with gusto, especially in those “special effects”—flautando, pizzicato, sul ponticello, double stops, and vigorous well-tuned unisons. Brazilian folk melodies and rhythms emerged genially throughout. Adriana Linares’s viola was given pride of place, especially in the opening bars and in the weeping gestures in the second movement.
Venezuelan-American composer Efraín Amaya’s Angelica opened the second half. This captivating little piece, written in 2000, is based on characters from the 16th-century epic poem “Orlando Furioso,” by Ludovico Ariosto. The story tells the tale of the Angelica’s unfortunate (‘twas ever thus…) affair with Rinaldo, a knight in the court of Charlemagne. Cellist Jesús Morales’s snappy “Bartók pizzicato” grounded and propelled the quartet from the start, and the Dalís navigated the Spanish-tinged and tricky ensemble playing with vigor and grace.
The Dalí Quartet shone in the closer, Ginastera’s String Quartet No. 1, Op. 20, handily executing the strong, incisive rhythms of the first and second movements. Violinist Ari Isaacman-Beck once again took the lead in the contemplative slow movement, a spectral, nocturnal adagio, handing off the solo work to the other instruments in turn. The Dalí then brought down the house with the allegramente rustico, a ferocious, dance-like rondo that ends the piece.
This unfamiliar but utterly enjoyable repertoire came to us through strong and rewarding advocacy.