REBECCA FRANKS talks to the Chiaroscuro Quartet’s lead violinist about Haydn’s seminal Op. 20 set
How important are these quartets in the history of the genre? Incredibly important. Haydn’s Op. 20 is the real basis of quartet repertoire. In these six pieces there are so many different ways to use a string quartet. Haydn was the real master of that. You can hear in Op. 20 how to bring out the solos, how to make the voices talk to each other and laugh with each other. They were called the ‘Sun’ quartets, but that was so they would sell better at the time. There really is everything here. The second movement of No. 4 is really devastating, probably one of my favourite movements in the set. It’s a real spectrum of emotion in Op. 20. It’s not only sunshine.
Listening to this CD, it really sounds like you relished playing these three quartets. Was that the case?
We had so much fun. There were so many jokes we could make, so many clever nuances that came to us when we were playing it. So while I think it was a little bit difficult for the recording engineer as he never had the same take twice, we always had lots of fun. Actually, when we first started to play Haydn it was really difficult. We felt on the spot, a little bit naked. As we got to know the language, we learned to be quite free with it. Haydn’s unique style is totally recognisable
And what difference does playing this music on gut strings make? They have a very different sound. We play with a lot of resonance, and we also like the earthiness of the sound. Sometimes we make a sound that isn’t always pretty or birdlike. There are lots of those colours to bring out in this music. In terms of the sound on disc, the choice of hall is important. We love the Sendessal Bremen in Germany. It’s wooden and so warm, and we love the sound we can get there. Our producer Ingo Petry is a vital part of it. We have to totally give ourselves to his musicality and how he puts it together in the end.