Haydn: String Quartets Op. 20 1-3 - Chiaroscuro Quartet
Classical - Chamber
Haydn: String Quartets Op. 20 Nos 1-3 "Sun"
Alina Ibragimova, Pablo Hernán Benedí (violins)
Emilie Hörnlund (viola)
Claire Thirion (cello)
The six so-called ‘Sun’ quartets of Joseph Haydn’s Op.20 are often said to represent an unprecedented flowering of his string quartet writing, establishing a high watermark to which every other subsequent composer of quartets has paid homage. For all their iconic status the Op.20 quartets are not a monument of compositional rectitude or propriety, however – it is rather their flexibility, variety and unpredictability that make them so compelling. Every bar is full of a sense of musical adventure, a palpable feeling that Haydn is creating bridges between styles and ideas and forging a composite vision of four-part string writing that draws on every historical source that he knew as well as the furthest reaches of his musical imagination.
On this first volume, the first three quartets of the set are performed by the Chiaroscuro Quartet, a highly international ensemble formed in 2005 by the violinists Alina Ibragimova (Russia) and Pablo Hernán Benedí (Spain), the Swedish violist Emilie Hörnlund and cellist Claire Thirion from France. Dubbed ‘a trailblazer for the authentic performance of High Classical chamber music’ in Gramophone, the quartet plays on gut strings and its unique sound – described in The Observer as ‘a shock to the ears of the best kind’ – is admired by audiences and critics all over Europe. Appearing for the first time on BIS, the Chiaroscuro Quartet has a growing and acclaimed discography and in 2015 received Germany’s most prestigious CD award, the Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik.
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Review by Adrian Quanjer - May 10, 2017
Perfection. Pure perfection. That’s what we have here and in multi-format. Not only the playing but also the bowing, the minute phrasing, the ‘justesse’, the musical involvement… and all the rest. String quartets come and go. As the famous ‘oldies’ fade out, the new generation is already waiting in the wings, eager to take over: Belcea, Jerusalem, Esher, Ebène….there are too many to name. Last October, The New York Times, in its praise for the Carnegie Hall appearance of the ‘Danish String Quartet’, called it the ‘golden age for young string quartets’, probably in a paraphrase of Haydn being the golden age of string quartets.
To such a select group we now can add the ‘Chiaroscuro Quartet’. Moreover, they have something on offer that not many other top string quartets have: playing gut-stringed period instruments; the incarnation, one might say, of the Festetics, the Mosaiques and, not to forget: the Kuijken Family. A distinct difference in bowing and a complete absence of vibrato. Absolute pitch is ‘de rigueur'.
I must admit that I had not heard them before and had to adjust a little to what I had been used to. After a couple of sessions and comparison with the Amsterdam String Quartet, who have recorded Nos 3 and 4, supposedly embarking on a complete Haydn set, but who have in the meantime for some reason completely disappeared (their internet site, too, is gone), I’ve come to the conclusion that Tony Reif’s comment is spot on. Especially the point of the dynamics. So, I’m pleased to associate myself with his detailed view!
The Amsterdam strings, also playing on period instruments, are straightforward forward 100 percent Haydn. However, I suppose we won’t hear from them anymore. So, if there is one period set to go for in high resolution, it is this one. Nos 4-6 will shortly be out as well. The other complete set, by the Pellegrini’s, is not bad. Well played, but lacking many-thing else.
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