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Haydn: String Quartets Op. 33 1-3 - Chiaroscuro Quartet

Haydn: String Quartets Op. 33 1-3 - Chiaroscuro Quartet

BIS  BIS-2588

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Chamber


Haydn: String Quartets Op. 33 1-3

Chiaroscuro Quartet


“Gut strings and classical bows are also the tools of a captivating quest for sonority”, French magazine Diapason recently wrote to describe the Chiaroscuro Quartet. After Op. 20, Joseph Haydn’s first major string quartet cycle, and Op. 76, his last, the internationally renowned ensemble is now embarking on the Quartets Op. 33, dubbed the “Russian Quartets” and dedicated to the Russian Grand Duke Paul, the future Tsar Paul I.

Having earned a reputation as eccentric and non-conformist, sometimes downright offensive, Haydn felt the need to write music more in keeping with the public’s lighter, more ‘popular’, less ‘scholarly’ tone, with a livelier sense of rhythm. And while there is comedy in some of the scherzos, it would be wrong to reduce these works to what some dour critics have called ‘comic fooling’. In Quartet No 1 in B minor, the comedy is cerebral, often disturbing. This is certainly not the case in Quartet No 2 in E flat major, nicknamed “The Joke” because of the sparkling tarantella that concludes it. In Quartet No 3 in C major, “The Bird”, Haydn invites us to a veritable bird concert before concluding brilliantly with its persistent refrain inspired by a wild Slavic folk dance.

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Comment by Marcus DiBenedetto - October 6, 2023 (1 of 3)

Thanks to a 50% off sale at eClassical, I was able to download this album, along with two others, to complete my set of all Chiaroscuro Quartet albums. It seems to me that each new album is better than the last. This album, recorded 26th—29th October 2021 at the Menuhin Hall, The Yehudi Menuhin School, Stoke d'Abernon, England is their newest release, available May, 2023. Oscar Torres was the recording/mastering engineer and he choose to record at PCM 24/192. I think the increased sample rate did provide a more robust reproduction of the group's period instruments with gut strings. I downloaded the surround version.

The Music: For me, the melodies are delightful. Richard Wigmore's liner notes gives you the full background. "... In letters he sent to subscribers in December 1781, the composer proclaimed that the quartets were written ‘in a completely new and special way, for I haven’t composed any for ten years’. ...Op. 33 is lighter and more ‘popular’ in tone, less self-consciously ‘learned’ (no fugues!), with a livelier sense of rhythm..." I can attest to this description of the music. There is nothing "heavy and ponderous" in these quartets. The music flows along engaging the listener. I was particularly impressed with the light touches of bows on strings melding into long strokes. All in all, this is fun music.

The Sound: Soundstage is broad and deep. The Quartet surrounds the center channel, each with appropriate distance from one another. The strings sound warm and robust, as they should.

The Critics:

Charlotte Gardner from Gramophone writes, "...this is a set begging to be served up with lashings of joy, and that’s precisely what the Chiaroscuro Quartet have done... ...It’s that combination of crisp, earthy clarity and lively, virtuoso sparkle that marks these readings out..."

Lee Passarella from Music Web International writes, "...The performances by the Chiaroscuro Quartet...in the “Joke Quartet” (Op. 33 No. 2) finale, the final reprise of the first bars of the main melody is played sotto voce, emphasizing the unfinished finish that Haydn leaves us with. In the Scherzo of the same piece, the trio section injects a more animated, upbeat quality after the sober music of the Scherzo proper. First Violinist Alina Ibragimova emphasizes this contrast with subtle slides between notes—a comic touch that I haven’t encountered before but which is not unwelcome."

This album has eclipsed all others as my favorite. The melodies and the playing are magnificent. Highly recommended.

Marcus DiBenedetto
Las Vegas, NV

Comment by Gurkensalat - October 26, 2023 (2 of 3)

„ First Violinist Alina Ibragimova emphasizes this contrast with subtle slides between notes—a comic touch that I haven’t encountered before but which is not unwelcome."“


This is funny, since Haydn writes explicitly in the score this slide effect. And at least those recordings I have heard all do it more or less. So did I those several times when I played it myself. It is therefore ridiculous by the critic to cite this as an especially inspired interpretation or something like that. I think this critic has no real knowledge of this Haydn piece.

Comment by Marcus DiBenedetto - November 2, 2023 (3 of 3)

Gurkensalat, I super appreciate you adding your expertise to my comment. I do not know music theory. I rely on music reviewers for their performance commentary. I focus on the quality of the recording/mastering for surround sound. I also add my "feelings" about the composer's melodies. Over the years, I've come across many controversial and often opposing reviews. In this case, I must have selected an inept review.