Déjà Review: this review was first published in April 2003 and the recording is still available.

Joaquín Turina (1882-1949)
Serenata Op.87, for String Quartet
String Quartet Op.4, “De la Guitarra”
Las Musas de Andalucía, Op.93
Quartet Sine Nomine, Ricardo Requejo (piano), María Bayo (soprano)
rec. 1992/1993, Centro Cultural Manuel de Falla, Granada, Spain; Salle de Châtonneyes, Corseaux, Switzerland
Claves 509320 [74]

Turina may never regain the fame he enjoyed in the years surrounding the Spanish Civil War, when he was often mentioned in the same breath as Falla. His craftsmanship is impressive, but anonymous ‘Spanishry’ too often bolsters melodic and harmonic invention, and many of his works don’t quite cut the ice of an elusive personality. His most satisfying compositions are the song cycles and chamber works, and this 3rd volume from enterprising Swiss label Claves certainly makes for absorbing listening.

The String Quartet Op.4, “De La Guitarra” and Serenata Op. 87 are separated by a quarter of a century, during which Turina’s language and style hardly changed. Both begin with bold, impressionistic gestures—a tremolo and pizzicato descent in Op.87, the plucking of open ‘guitar’ strings in Op.4—which bring the music’s Andalusian inspiration immediately to the fore. If the cyclic form of the Quartet, with its zortzico and zapateado-based movements, seems over-extended for its material and unrelievedly dense in texture; the nocturnal Serenata’s thirteen brief, linked sections form a coherent and imaginative whole, and the quartet writing is far more varied. Both are played with fervour by the immaculate Quartet Sine Nomine.

Las Musas de Andalucía, Op.93 is an intriguing hybrid, nine short pieces averaging about three and a half minutes, scored for a variety of forces and each dedicated to one of The Blessed Nine. Many of them seem only marginally related to their particular muse, and the subtitles (At the gates of RábidaOrange and Olive TreesNocturne …) are far more revealing than the dedications. The piano features in all but two of the set, and Ricardo Requejo’s playing is solidly impressive. As far as the solo items are concerned, the gritty Fugal Farruca for Urania suits him better than the delicate, light-footed Minuet for Terpsichore. In 1992 soprano María Bayo was just starting a swift rise to fame, and her two contributions show off her fluid, silky vocal personality to perfection. The rock-like Hymn for Caliope, muse of epic and heroic poetry, ends the sequence on a spartan note, its block chords for piano and string quartet sternly impressive: here and elsewhere, the Sine Nomines shine both as individuals and in ensemble.

Las Musas may be typical of its composer in that it obstinately refuses to add up to more than the sum of its parts, but in this performance those parts are never less than compelling. Top marks for execution—and for Claves’ full and rich recording, even though it doesn’t quite encompass a true pianissimo for the Quartet items. As for the music, all of it is well worth hearing, and the Serenata is considerably more than that. In this work at least Turina’s own muse worked the oracle, inspiring him to write a miniature masterpiece.

Christopher Webber

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