Nobody goes into a guitar quartet to play the masterpieces of an established canon. After all, as a performing medium, the ensemble is barely a generation old.
But for individualists of a particularly creative and adventuresome bent, that is precisely the attraction of the build-your-own-repertory medium. Limitation becomes opportunity for groups such as Brazil's Quaternaglia, a competition-winning, critic-dazzling ensemble that will make its Southern California debut Thursday in the guitar series at Cal State Fullerton.
"We wanted to create new experiences, to have the chance to make our own transcriptions and to commission new pieces, enlarging the repertory," says member Sidney Molina. (He spoke through an interpreter, his wife, Olga, in an interview from Fort Worth, a stop on the current tour.)
Formed seven years ago, Quaternaglia brought together four guitarists living in Sa~o Paulo. Molina, Breno Chaves, Eduardo Fleury and Fabio Ramazzina were all soloists with chamber music experience. Chaves and Fleury are also private teachers, and Ramazzina is a choir conductor and theory teacher. Molina teaches music and philosophy of art at the University of Sa~o Paulo and owns a music store and school with his wife.
The name Quaternaglia is meant to suggest a foursome that plays all kinds of music, but, above all, "We just enjoy the sound of the name," Molina said.
"We had three levels of interest. First, we decided to look for original, 20th century pieces. Then we were looking for arrangements and transcriptions of songs and early music. The third area is Brazilian music, both arrangements and new compositions."
These interests are clearly reflected in their recordings. The self-titled "Quaternaglia" from 1995 consists of contemporary originals, some of it as close as guitar quartets come to standard repertory. "Antique," from the next year, contains the adaptations of early music.
Music from Brazil is their current obsession. The program tonight includes pieces by Heitor Villa-Lobos, Sergio Assad, Paulo Bellinati and Egberto Gismonti. When the quartet returns home this month, it will record these pieces for its third CD.
"Brazil is so rich in rhythms; the northeast and the southeast are totally different," Molina said. "This music has lots of percussion effects."
The quartet plays a matched set of instruments--including a left-handed, seven-string guitar for Molina--made by Brazilian guitarist-composer-luthier Sergio Abreu. "We chose these guitars because the projection and sound is very nice," Molina said. "They preserve our individual differences yet let us play together with an integrated sound."
Quaternaglia will repeat their program Saturday at Cal State Northridge. Other stops on the tour have ranged from Princeton to Stanford.
The four musicians enjoy traveling, which is a good thing, since they have received enough return invitations from this tour that Olga Molina is already planning their 2000 itinerary.
The group has its own Web site--www.virtualnet.com.br/quaternaglia-- which includes its concert and travel schedule, as well as an audio clip from its first disc, an enthusiastic letter from Gismonti and the usual profile and photos.
In many ways, Quaternaglia's Fullerton concert summarizes both its heritage and its recent history. Besides the music of the guitarists' current Brazilian project, the program includes Leo Brouwer's "Paisaje Cubano con Rumba," one of the few works that almost every guitar ensemble has played at some point.
Last year, Quaternaglia won first prize in the international guitar competition at Havana, where the judges included Brouwer, as well as Eliot Fisk and Pepe Romero.
"Estampas," a suite of Spanish musical postcards that Federico Moreno Torroba wrote for the Romeros, opens the program. There is a modest body of earlier works for two guitars and even some pieces for guitar trio, but it was the Romero family ensemble that established the guitar quartet as a musically viable, audience-friendly medium.
Quaternaglia acknowledges the Romeros but also cites the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet as an influence in both repertory and instrumental virtuosity. Coincidentally, the local heroes' latest recording, "L.A.G.Q.," features Bellinati's "Furiosa." This maxixe, a sort of Brazilian polka, is on Quaternaglia's concert and imminent recording plans.
"That's a very difficult piece," Molina said. "It has lots of technical problems, but it really needs to have a swing to it."
* Quaternaglia performs Thursday in the Little Theatre at Cal State Fullerton, 800 N. State College Blvd. 8 p.m. $7-$13. (714) 278-3371. The group will also appear Saturday in the Recital Hall at Cal State Northridge, 18111 Nordhoff Ave., 8 p.m. $12. (818) 677-2488