Caravaggio Quartet Basel & Nana Hiwatari at Riehen Dorfkirche – Music from Spain and Latin-America

String Quartet in D, Op.58/5 (Cornamuse)
Septième Fantasie sur des aires favorites, Op.30
Ernst Widmer
String Quartet No.6, Op.130 (Paisagem Bahiana V; Recôncavo) [Swiss premiere]
Homenajes – Le tombeau de Claude Debussy
Quintet No.2 in C for Guitar and Strings (La Ritirata di Madrid)

Caravaggio String Quartet Basel [Thomas Wicky-Stamm & Cosetta Ponte (violins), Andrey Smirnov (viola) & Ferdinando Vietti (cello)]

Nana Hiwatari (guitar)

Reviewed by: Rebekkah Laeuchli

Reviewed: 31 May, 2015
Venue: Dorfkirche, Riehen, Switzerland

Caravaggio QuartetChamber music is one of Basel’s specialties and the city offers many such recitals throughout any one year. The venues tend to be small and welcoming and the repertoire allows listeners to discover new treasures, both contemporary compositions and pieces from the past. The Caravaggio Quartet Basel and Nana Hiwatari offered just such a concert in the gentle atmosphere of Riehen Dorfkirche. The church, in a little town just outside of Basel, was illuminated with late-afternoon light as the audience settled into the pews. The programme featured Spanish and Latin-American composers, both native and adopted, part of Connaissez-Vous, a series focusing on “unknown known composers”.

The recital got off to a sleepy start with the ‘Cornamuse’ String Quartet (1799) by Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805). In the first two movements, the Caravaggio players blended their sound pleasantly but tempos and dynamics were restrained, not really what one would expect in music from an Italian composer transplanted to Spain. In the third movement however the restraint turned to courtly passion and the music expressed a beautiful lyricism and then the final Presto burst out, little motifs emerging from the texture and blending back again. At one point a cornamuse, a reed instrument from the Renaissance and redolent of a bagpipe, was mimicked.

Sharing the evening was guitarist Nana Hiwatari. Her performance of Septième Fantasie by Fernando Sor (1778-1839), and later a movement from Manuel de Falla’s Homenaje (1920) pulled the audience in. Her dynamic range featured gradations of sound down to the finest pianissimos. Her attention to detail made each transition in the Sor intriguing and her imaginative playing in every register rendered the Falla a delight.

Caravaggio QuartetThe truly unfamiliar composer was Ernst Widmer (1927-1990), a Swiss musician who achieved fame in Brazil. After finishing his studies Widmer moved to Bahia, where he spent most of his professional life. His ‘Recôncavo’ String Quartet (1981) is a mix of Latin aesthetic, traditional harmonies, and modern gestures. This might sound messy but the piece is expressive and full of humour. The Caravaggio musicians enjoyed themselves and tossed off both the atonal opening and the folksy Bartók-flavoured passages with equal flair, the composer found to have welded his disparate components into a coherent whole that touched both performers and listeners. Widmer died unknown in Switzerland but in Brazil is remembered as one of that country’s greatest composers.

The occasion ended with further Boccherini, his Quintet for Guitar and Strings ‘La Ritirata di Madrid’ (1798). After the expressiveness of Widmer and Falla it was jarring to return to Boccherini’s classicism. The piece is staid in the beginning but picks up, the final variations building from pianissimo into a march of grandeur and then fading away (and which attracted Berio to make an orchestration). The movement gave the concert a celebratory finish. It was a joy to make acquaintance with these composers and to hear their works given by such sensitive and accomplished musicians.

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