Chamber Music Review



Battle of the Bows - Round 1: La Catrina

October 7, 2006 - Hickory, NC:


The Battle of the Bows has begun. The Western Piedmont Symphony, after the recent announcement of the departure of the resident Degas String Quartet, has brilliantly set up a sort of mock competition to bring a new ensemble to the Hickory-Metro area. Four quartets will perform throughout the Chamber Classics Series and at the conclusion of the season one will be asked to be the new resident string quartet. During the short two to three week visit each quartet has also been asked to perform at functions in the community, such as school events, etc.

Round one began at the Catawba Valley Arts and Science Center with a performance by the La Catrina String Quartet. The group was founded in 2001 and has a special vocation to promote the music of Mexico.* Their home base is currently Kent State University.*

While the group specializes in performing the works of Mexican* composers, they have a diverse repertoire that includes many of the better-known masterpieces written for the string quartet. They opened the evening’s program with one of those, Mozart’s String Quartet in C, K. 465 ‘Dissonant.’ It garnered this odd appellation because the first 22 measures contained notes that did not fit the usual pattern heard in music of the classical period. The players seemed uncomfortable in this work, pulling against each other rather than creating a symbiotic sound. It was off balance, and voices were cloudy and indistinct. All the notes were played but it lacked a lyricism and grace that one often recognizes in the music of Mozart. The final movement began with flair and the quartet sounded like they were starting to gel when a most unfortunate accident occurred. The E-string on George Figueroa's* violin broke, and the music came to a screeching halt. He showed good humor and promptly restrung his instrument. The group, however, did not recapture the succinct sound they were beginning to make prior to this incident.

For the second piece of the program La Catrina wisely chose a piece in which they seemed to be a little more in their element. The String Quartet No. 4, “Musica de Feria,”of Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas was written in 1932 as a bi-tonal composition (most of the piece is played in two keys simultaneously). It is a brief piece written to mimic the sounds of a Mexican festival. The performance was fresh and exciting, one could feel the passion they had for the music. It was filled with reminiscence and had a tinge of longing for times past. The piece was expertly crafted, wonderfully performed, and was the highlight of the evening.

Following intermission the band returned to the more standard repertoire with Dmitri Shostakovich’ epic String Quartet Op. 110, No. 8. Violinist Daniel Vega-Albela* spoke beforehand on the programmatic qualities of the work, such as the second movement symbolizing invading armies, and the pedals in the third and fourth movements representing air raid horns. La Catrina fared well here and connected with the audience bringing a sorrowful, somber mood to the auditorium. Cellist Allan Daowz did especially well in furthering the gravitas of the piece with plunging bass lines and a subdued lilting motion in the principal motif.

Having put the audience in a melancholy stupor, the group decided to close the concert with an energetic modern piece by Mexican composer Javier Alvarez. A short one-movement quartet, Metro Chabacanois about a subway station in Mexico City and was written for an art exhibition that was held in that station in 1991. Vega-Albela* spoke about going to this station everyday on his way to work and hearing some of the sounds that Alvarez is trying to reproduce. Once again the ensemble gave a passionate retelling of a piece that touched on familiar elements to each of the players. Personal experience is often the impetus for great music, whether in composition or in performance, and La Catrina provided a prime example of this. Hickory would be in good hands with a group of such integrity and passion.

*Edited/corrected 11/5/06.