A Recording of the Complete String Quartets of Alberto Ginastera Released on Naxos

On June 26, Naxos releases the complete string quartets of Alberto Ginastera performed by the Ensō Quartet and acclaimed soprano Lucy Shelton.

Alberto Ginastera’s compositional output included four operas and eleven film scores, as well as numerous orchestral works, concerti, choral and solo vocal pieces, chamber and instrumental works, and incidental music for around a half-dozen dramas. The three string quartets, which date from 1948 to 1973, illustrate three distinct compositional phases in Ginastera’s life.


Premiered in 1949 by the Mozart Quartet in Buenos Aires, String Quartet No. 1, Op. 20 (1948) represents a style to which the composer referred as “subjective nationalism,” and is found in his works dating from 1947-1957. With “subjective nationalism” the composer shed his previous concept of “objective nationalism,” which relied on more traditional ethnic elements, and replaced it, as he noted, with “the creation of an imagined folklore.” In this first quartet, Ginastera incorporates rhythmic and thematic elements from Argentina’s traditional folk-music but uses a varied and dissonant vocabulary.

Completed in 1958 (rev. 1968), String Quartet No. 2, Op. 26 was a commission by the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation and received its premiere in Washington, D.C. in 1958 by the Juilliard String Quartet. Neo-expressionist in style and breaking with the traditional four-movement structure, the five-movement String Quartet No. 2 features microtones, indeterminacy, and polytonality. The opening of the first movement is based on a twelve-tone row, which Ginastera approaches freely.

Like its predecessor, String Quartet No. 3, Op. 40 (1973) received its premiere by the Juilliard String Quartet in 1974 with soprano Benita Valente as soloist. In this quartet, Ginastera builds upon an idea from Schoenberg’s String Quartet No. 2, Op. 10, which features a soprano voice in two of the movements (in Schoenberg’s work, movements 3 and 4). Here Ginastera has set four poems for voice, leaving only the second movement for the instruments alone. The first movement, Contemplativo, is a setting of Juan Ramón Jiménez’s poem La Música, which celebrates love and the music written about it. The second movement, Fantastico, allows the strings their nocturnal moment. The third movement, Amoroso, is based on Canción de Belisa, a song from Federico Garcia Lorca’s play The Love of Don Perlimplíin for Belisa in Their Garden. The fourth movement, set to Rafael Alberti’s Morir al sol (Death in the Sun), is marked Drammatico, and opens with the lyrics “The soldier has fallen / The woods weep each morning for him.” In this movement, the mood intensifies to the point that the singer is almost shouting with grief. Rounding out the quartet is the fifth movement, marked Di nuovo comtemplativo, for which Ginastera selected another poem by Juan Ramón Jiménez, Oscaso (Twilight; sunset).

Internationally acclaimed American soprano Lucy Shelton is the only artist ever to have won two Walter W. Naumburg Awards. She has worked closely with some of today’s most important composers, including Elliott Carter, Pierre Boulez, György Kurtág, Kaija Saariaho and Oliver Knussen, many of whom have written expressly for her. She has given premieres of more than 100 works, and her discography includes over 50 recordings. Though contemporary music is her specialty, Ms. Shelton is a distinguished performer of music spanning four centuries. A quintessential collaborative artist, she has appeared with nearly all of the major orchestras in the United States and Europe and is a frequent guest-with her vast repertoire of vocal chamber music-at festivals such as Tanglewood, Ojai, Santa Fe, Aspen, Salzburg, Kuhmo, Aldeburgh, and the BBC Proms. Lucy Shelton’s primary mentor was the legendary American mezzo-soprano Jan de Gaetani.

Since its inception in 1999, the United States-based Ensō String Quartet has won acclaim for their vibrant and passionate performances in major concert halls throughout North America, as well as in Europe, Central America, Australia, and New Zealand. In addition to audience appreciation and critical acclaim, the quartet has earned its place in the chamber music world with top prizes in the Banff International String Quartet and Concert Artists Guild International competitions. The members of the Ensō String Quartet also are sought after as teachers and chamber music coaches; the quartet has served as faculty for the Boston University Tanglewood Institute and as Lecturers in Music at the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University. The instruments used in this recording are a matched set made in 2006 by London-based luthier Nigel Harris, generously on loan to the quartet by Christopher Marshall. This is the Ensō String Quartet’s second recording for Naxos, following its release of the string quartets of Ignaz Pleyel (8.557496 & 8.557497). To learn more, please visit www.ensoquartet.com.