The Bambú Ensemble Plays Octets

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ENESCU: String Octet, Op. 7. SHOSTAKOVICH: 2 Pieces for String Octet. CAMPOS: Serenata para cuerdas / Bambú Ensemble: Marina Arrufat, Samuel García, David García,  Aliza Vacente, vln; Paloma Cueto-Felgueroso, Samuel Espinosa, vla; Millán Abeledo, Irma Bau, cel / IBS Classical 112021-1

As I’ve said several times on this blog, there is a small but lively group of Spanish artists, conductors and composers dedicated to modern music. They just don’t get the same exposure as those who stick to the traditional repertoire. On this CD, one can scarcely call George Enescu a modern composer—he died in 1955, and most of his music is in the late Romantic style, albeit with some very interesting twists—but Shostakovich was certainly a modernist in his time and Javier Martinez Campos, who is a cellist as well as a composer, was born in 1989, about a dozen years after Shostakovich’s death.

Yet although I generally love most of Enescu’s output and although the Bambú Ensemble plays his music with great energy, I have to say that the first movement of his string octet really didn’t impress me much. He uses weak themes and doesn’t develop them very far, and in this case (an early opus number) his music just sounds ordinary and not terribly interesting. Well, there’s some early Beethoven than doesn’t grab me much, either, so we just have to judge it on its own merits. The second movement was quite a bit better, but the last two were also relatively weak.

The Shostakovich pieces for string octet are also early works (Op. 11) but not weak at all. The music is consistently interesting though written in the composer’s earlier, more tonal style, and although quit exciting at times is less neurotic than much of his later music.

Campos’ Serenata, however, is clearly the highlight of this CD: music with a driving rhythm, the harmony somewhat minimalistic though changing in harmony beneath the relentless motor rhythms, and a fluid, lyrical top line that shifts and morphs as the underlying harmony demands. This is a great piece, and I sincerely hope that other string octets pick it up as a repertoire number. It also has several sections in differing tempi and moods, the fast, driving opening section giving way to a slow, mysterious section at the 2:04 mark; later, the fast rhythm returns but with more varied harmony as the theme is also developed further. As a composer, Campos clearly knows what he is about and isn’t afraid to take some risks, all of which pay off in this amazing octet. It’s almost like a slow-moving jigsaw puzzle in which every piece that falls into place completes the musical “image.”

The performances are consistently excellent, but I must give it a mixed review because of my impressions of the individual pieces. A good CD to hear once, though.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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