Respighi; Puccini; Verdi; Boccherini_Works for String Quartet
It is very appealing to be taken on a tour of Italy through Respighi, Puccini, Verdi and Boccherini by way of chamber music, rather than opera. It feels so much more sunny and joyful, though there is still an ineluctable sense that there is as much a singer’s line in what the Cremona Quartet are playing as there is a string player’s. They have a similar sinuous sound to the Quartetto Italiano, and something of the same Mediterranean temperament that made the Italiano’s listeners so devoted during their 35-year lifetime. It’s a rare blend: breadth of sound and capriciousness combined with perfect tuning and ensemble (the little-known Respighi Quartet in D has the players sounding absolutely of one voice, especially in the opening movement, which is as graphic an illustration of the Emilia-Romagna countryside as Elgar’s is of the English landscape).
Although their sound may bring out all the innate Italianness in these pieces, playing them as naturally as an Italian singer would sing an aria in grand Italian opera, they are still surprisingly light with their vibrato and never push the boundaries of what is appropriate intensity of expression. In fact, there may be many threads that sew this disc together, but the most striking is that at all times, whatever the tempo, texture, voicing or general disposition, you never lose the feeling that you are being sung, not played, to. Whether or not this is due to the age-old notion that the Italians are a garrulous bunch, listening to this recording making the music sound so immediate (particularly beautifully concentrated in the Verdi quartet) is nothing less than life-affirming.