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Haydn: String Quartets Op. 20 Nos 1-3 - Chiaroscuro Quartet

Haydn: String Quartets Op. 20 Nos 1-3 - Chiaroscuro Quartet

BIS  BIS-2158

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Chamber


Haydn: String Quartets Op. 20 Nos 1-3 "Sun"

Chiaroscuro Quartet:
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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Comment by Tony Reif - April 17, 2017 (1 of 1)

Those interested Haydn on original instruments and especially anyone looking for a fresh approach to these quartets might want to check this out. Gut strings, antique bows and A=430 tell only part of the story. More traditional-minded listeners may not like what Ibragimova and her colleagues are doing here but I doubt anyone will be left indifferent. "Mannerist" might be a useful term. There are extremes of dynamics (including some delicate, very quiet playing). Very very little vibrato compared for example to the Festetics - anyone who equates "warmth" and "vibrato" may find these interpretations cold, as well as overthought, because Ibragimova especially does a lot of shaping (phrasing, some squeezed-out timbres). And yet the playing is very together - there's no feeling of a soloist standing apart. The sound in stereo is excellent, rich and rather reverberant (Sendesaal Bremen). I love the Festetics, and their RBCD sound is really good too, a little drier/closer, more intimate. Their approach is perhaps more what one would expect of an eastern European original instruments quartet - flowing, intuitive-feeling playing that makes these quartets sing. It's a bit startling to return to the Chiaroscuro and notice all the things they're doing differently. I find myself drawn to them though. These are beautifully detailed, constantly alive interpretations with no lack of heart or wit.