In the moment

The Strad Issue:  September 2017
Description:  A fragrant potpourri of short pieces that’s more than the sum of its parts 
Musicians:  Arabella Quartet
Composer:  Turina, Webern, Mendelssohn, Shostakovich, Nielsen, Wolf, Puccini, Dvořák, Schubert 
Catalogue Number:  NAXOS 8.579013

A disc of short pieces for string quartet risks ending up as a slightly indigestible collection of encores, but the Arabella Quartet’s In the Moment is altogether far more imaginative. This is an artfully balanced mix of rarities, the caustic wit of Shostakovich providing fine contrast with more luxuriantly romantic moments, and some seldom-heard Puccini and Wolf making a welcome appearance. The Arabella players – from Denmark, Australia, Italy and France – met at Yale School of Music, and their five years together have reaped rewards in their well-matched tone colours and sense of breathing as one.

In Turina’s La oración del torero the players set the bar high: they commit to its quixotic changes from lavish, yearning melodies to hurtling, frenzied excitement and back again 
in a performance of brilliance and conviction. Webern’s early Langsamer Satz is another highlight, sweetly poignant and deeply expressive, with some wonderful playing from Ettore Causa, in whose capable hands the viola melodies soar. The swelling, tempestuous themes of Puccini’s beautiful Crisantemi elegy are perfectly judged, and Wolf’s sunny Italian Serenade is the perfect foil for another elegy – Nielsen’s tribute to the painter Oluf Hartmann, At the Bier of a Young Artist, with its unctuous textures. The disc is only marred by a momentary faltering in the ensemble in Mendelssohn’s scherzo op.81 no.2. And the roomy and vivid recorded sound, while adding depth when the strings swell out, proves a touch overdone in passages of chipped staccato. Yet all told, this is a fine disc, the Arabella digging deep to produce performances of great intensity and poise.