In 2006, the BGQ released an entire album presenting Isaac Albéniz’s monumental Suite Iberia – for the first time in an arrangement for a guitar quartet. Critic Arthur Nestrovsky, of the Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo, wrote that the arrangement was “the translation of the translation, taking the music back to its origins.” The reviewer thus acknowledged the fact that Albéniz sought inspiration (among other sounds and sights) in the different sonorities and stylistic nuances of the guitar as played in the streets of various cities and regions of Spain – whose names Albéniz applied as the titles of the work’s varied movements. Iberia – perhaps the most virtuosic piano collection of its day – was finished in 1909: the last year of the composer’s life. Azulejos (track 17), the work from him heard here, was also written that year, though it was left unfinished when the composer died (Granados completed it after his death). Had he lived to finish it and go on from there, it would have been the prelude to a suite of similarly superlative pieces of the same name. Albéniz’s later music embodies the nationalistic influence in a way that is idiomatically true and highly evocative, though at times striking the listener as a Spanish take on the Impressionistic style. No wonder composers like Debussy and Messiaen praised the composer for his masterly use of tone colors and effects.
Azulejos is a rather intimate work, starting with a single line taken up by the 8-string guitar and slowly building up to more complex textures and patterns that we could associate with the mosaic patterns seen in the many examples of decorative tile found in the Iberian Peninsula. The music soon establishes a very entrancing atmosphere, with the theme meandering through different contexts and tonalities, as well as – in the BGQ’s arrangement – different guitars. After coming to an unexpected pause near the end, the piece’s opening line returns almost as a distant remembrance, soon spreading out and fading away – gently punctuated by chords that slowly settle the mood down, but leave a mysterious quality hanging in the air.
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