BBC Music Magazine

Recording of the Month

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


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
sunny haydn: the Chiaroscur­o Quartet sparkles

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United Kingdom