Record­ing of the Month

He­len Wal­lace ad­mires the Chiaroscuro Quar­tet’s Op. 20 Nos 5-6

BBC Music Magazine - - CONTENTS -

Haydn Quar­tets Chiaroscuro Quar­tet

HAYDN ‘Sun’ Quar­tets, Op. 20 Nos 4-6 Chiaroscuro Quar­tet BIS BIS-2168 (hy­brid CD/SACD) 75.08 mins

Haydn’s Op. 20 ‘Sun’ string quar­tets form a trove of in­ge­nu­ity, a lab­o­ra­tory where Baroque and Clas­si­cal tropes are sub­ject to rad­i­cal ex­per­i­ment, al­most bar by bar. De­light is the key to suc­cess­ful per­for­mance, and in this record­ing the Chiaroscuro Quar­tet revel in the com­poser’s play of ideas. This, their sec­ond record­ing for BIS (Vol. 1 was re­viewed in Novem­ber 2016), fea­tures Nos 5 & 6 from the Op. 20 set, ac­tu­ally writ­ten be­fore Nos 1-3. They show Haydn’s adop­tion of older forms – both have en­riched fu­gal fi­nales, the sixth an in­ge­nious three-part ex­am­ple which turns the theme on its head.

First vi­o­lin­ist Alina Ibrag­i­mova leads this merry scherzando work with daz­zling del­i­cacy, but it was the in­ter­pre­ta­tion of No. 5 that blind-sided me on a first lis­ten­ing. Con­ven­tion dic­tates a cer­tain ag­i­ta­tion in the open­ing Moder­ato Al­le­gro be­fore sunshine breaks through. Here we are plunged into tragedy, a sense of dev­as­ta­tion so pro­found that when the ma­jor key ar­rives, it ac­quires Beethove­nian se­ri­ous­ness. This is a deeply ab­sorb­ing read­ing, and can make other in­ter­pre­ta­tions seem al­most trite. It’s partly the sheer tim­bral and dy­namic range on of­fer: each note is given its res­o­nance, keen­ing dis­so­nances fully re­alised, high lines lent a fine-spun, frag­ile beauty while echo­ing phrases are re­duced to mere breaths. While even the scherzo is tear-streaked, the Si­cili­enne of­fers con­so­la­tion, and a mo­ment for Ibrag­i­mova to im­pro­vise with wild fan­tasy, mus­ing sweet­ness and sense of bold dis­cov­ery: rarely has her Bel­losio vi­o­lin sounded so lav­ish, com­ple­mented by the f lame-like tim­bre of sec­ond vi­o­lin­ist Pablo Hernán Benedí’s Amati.

In the fu­gal fi­nale, we’re trans­ported to the in­ti­mate world of the viol con­sort. The pushy, vi­brated notes of other quar­tets (the Qu­atuor

Vi­o­lin­ist Alina Ibrag­i­mova im­pro­vises with a sense of bold dis­cov­ery

Mosaïques, on Astrée, ex­cepted) feel self-im­por­tant and over-em­phatic in com­par­i­son: this fugue barely touches the ground.

They breathe new life into grace­ful No. 4, a nest of traps and am­bi­gu­i­ties: the an­tique vari­a­tions are con­fid­ingly quiet, cel­list Claire Thirion spin­ning silken po­etry, while there’s rus­tic aban­don in the Presto and gypsy min­uet, with its cheer­ful col­li­sion of ac­cents.

I’ve al­ways en­joyed the Ha­gen Quar­tet’s ro­bustly cheer­ful record­ing (on DG) of No. 6; here, the lat­ter’s brisk­ness is re­placed by a wily gen­tle­ness. In the ever-so-slightly ridicu­lous Ada­gio, Ibrag­i­mova un­leashes arabesques of fil­i­gree trac­ery with breath­tak­ing artistry but a sly charm which sug­gests she might just be jok­ing. In fact, you can sense a smile in the play­ing of all the per­form­ers in this quar­tet, par­tic­u­larly in the gawky trio, with its coarse, squeeze-box melody, ap­par­ently tuned by the damp air of the swamp on which the Ester­házy palace, where Haydn worked, was built. Highly rec­om­mended.

sunny haydn: the Chiaroscuro Quar­tet sparkles

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