New Classical Tracks: Italian Journey

by Julie Amacher, Minnesota Public Radio
May 14, 2013

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Quartetto di Cremona is an Italian string quartet based in... Genoa. The ensemble does take its name from Cremona, Italy, which is known for its great tradition of violin making, and it's also where each of the four members were studying at the Stauffer Academy when they formed the quartet in 2000.

Quartetto di Cremona features violinists Cristiano Gualco and Paolo Andreoli, violist Simone Gramaglia and cellist Giovanni Scaglione. For most of their 13-year history Quartetto di Cremona has toured the globe from their homeland of Italy to the far reaches of Asia; however, they've just completed their first U.S. tour, performing works from their recording Italian Journey.

Italy is famous for being the land of bel canto, an Italian opera style popularized in the 19th century. That concept of beautiful singing can also be heard in Italian instrumental music. Each piece on this recording, which takes us on an Italian Journey, reflects that singing quality.

Violist Simone Gramaglia explains just how the ensemble captures that sound. "First of all, with the bow. And we need to use the bow and to find the right way to vibrate the instrument. Every instrument has its own characteristics, but I think that the bow is the secret to making an instrument sing. The bow is like the voice for singers."

Puccini and Verdi are two opera composers who also wrote works for string quartet. Verdi's Quartet in e minor is featured on Italian Journey, as is Chrysanthemums, by Puccini, which is the composer's most popular chamber piece. Simone explains why: "It was written just in one night for the death of a nobleman. It's really sad but in a way there is all the intimacy that Puccini was able to create—not just in opera but in all the little chamber music pieces that he wrote."

"And in Verdi you can really listen to the Italian opera," Simone adds. "Just the theme of the beginning of the first movement is incredible, because you immediately come into the tradition of operas like Traviata, Trovatore, Rigoletto. But you find also, let's say, a tradition of string quartet writing because in the last movement, for example, Verdi writes a fugue. That's something that is absolutely not linked to the Italian tradition. It's something that's linked to the German tradition of chamber music."

In choosing the repertoire for Italian Journey, Simone says they were looking for works that would offer variety in character and a contrast between tonalities. That's one reason they open this recording with Respighi's Quartet in D Major. This work is full of surprises, especially in the second movement. "At the end of it, all the instruments, step by step, arrive on just one note. It's a kind of theme with variations and to finish like this, it's really incredible... You can't imagine that just one note can give this incredible surprise."

With just four voices, it's not surprising that being part of a string quartet requires a lot of patience and cooperation. "It's funny because it's just like in life," Simone explains. "When you are alone, you can do what you want. You can say what you want. But if you speak with another, you have to pay attention and you have to be polite and you have to find compromise."

Quartetto di Cremona will continue to find ways to do all those things as they launch their next big project, the complete cycle of string quartets by Beethoven.

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