By John J. Puccio
For those of you unaware, the Quartetto di Cremona is an award-winning Italian string ensemble founded in Cremona, Italy in 2000. Their members are Cristiano Gualco, violin; Paolo Andreoli, violin; Simone Gramaglia, viola; and Giovanni Scaglione, cello. On the Tchaikovsky piece, they are joined by Ori Kam, viola, and Eckart Runge, cello. The quartet has appeared practically everywhere in the world and has recorded well over a dozen record albums.
The program begins with the Italian Serenade (1887), a short work (about seven minutes) by the Austrian composer Hugo Wolf (1860-1903). It is a favorite of string quartets worldwide, often played as an encore but here used as a curtain raiser. It works no matter how people use it. Wolf heard the melody while on holiday, and the Quartetto di Cremona play it with an appropriately sunny zest.
Next up is the String Quartet No. 1 in G, K. 80, “Lodi” (1770) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791). Mozart wrote it at age fourteen while touring in Lodi, Lombardy. You may remember Lodi, California having a similar effect on the young John Fogarty some 200 years later. Something about the name, I suppose. Anyway, it was Mozart's first string quartet, with a finale he composed a few years later. The Cremona Quartet provide a lovely poignancy to the opening Adagio, which, unusual for a string quartet, is a slow movement. Then they add their aforementioned zest to the second, Allegro, movement and a regal presence to the Minuetto. Which is where it should have ended, but Mozart felt the need to be conventional and added a fourth movement, a closing Allegro. The Quartetto di Cremona have an uncanny knack for sounding like more than just four players, their sound rich, vibrant, and resplendent.
The final selection on the album is the most substantial in terms of timing, the String Sextet in D minor, Op. 70, “Souvenir de Florence” (1890) by the Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky (1840-1893). Tchaikovsky wrote the piece while sketching one of its themes in Florence, Italy. On the present recording, Ori Kam, viola, and Eckart Runge, cello, sit in with the Cremona Quartet. Together, they produce a sound that comes close to seeming like a small chamber orchestra of strings, which is apt in that the piece works for the most part like a miniature symphony. The performance is wholly delightful, with plenty of emotional impact as well as sheer artistry and elegance.
Producer and engineer Michael Seberich recorded the music at Palazzina Banna, Tenuta Banna, Poirino (Torino) in December 2019. As with so many chamber recordings, this one is recorded somewhat closely. It’s great for clarity, detail, and dynamic impact but spreads out the players across the speakers a bit too wide. No matter, the recording sounds fine, with an especially welcome ambient bloom from venue.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below: