The Cuarteto Latinoamericano is a string quartet that specializes in Latin American music, and it’s made a mission of unearthing neglected works from some of the more intriguing musical minds of the last century. The group brought an eclectic selection to the Barns at Wolf Trap on Friday night, running the gamut from nostalgic salon music to edgy, 12-tone expressionism — but always with a distinctive Latin character.
Things got off to an underwhelming start with the early String Quartet No. 1 of Heitor Villa-Lobos — a vapid pudding of cliches and tepid sentimentality that displayed little of the Brazilian composer’s later originality and fire. But Astor Piazzolla’s “Four for Tango,” from 1987, arrived like a fresh wind, bitingly sharp and full of brilliant effects — whiplike upward slides, notes as rough as sandpaper — and the sophisticated raunchiness that makes tango what it is. Manuel Ponce’s well-known song, “Estrellita,” appeared in an arrangement for string quartet, along with the similarly lovely “Gavota”; they charmed, perfectly.
The two works that really made the program, though, were “Musica de Feria” by Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas and the showstopping Cuarteto No. 2, Op. 26, of Alberto Ginastera. The Revueltas was an extravagance of furious rhythms, folk songs and diabolical little dances, so vivid and full of life it needed to be heard to be believed. Ginastera’s 1957 quartet was far more austere but no less powerful: a masterpiece of modernism, brilliantly played and a joy to hear.