The Strad Issue: January 2013
Description: Music-making that is often overshadowed by the richness of the recording
Musicians: EngegŠrd Quartet
Composer: Haydn, Nordheim, Bartók

It’s the recording itself that’s the real star of this disc. 2L’s exceptionally transparent, generous sound picks out each of the quartet’s players as individuals, yet also combines them in a beautifully convincing corporate sonority, conveying their every bow stroke in high definition yet somehow magically avoiding any extraneous noises. The acoustics of the Sofienberg Church in Oslo are on the resonant side, but they complement the closeness of the recording well.

It’s a bit of a disappointment, then, that the Engegård Quartet’s performances are rather lacklustre. The foursome’s Haydn is crisp and brisk, full of swelling phrases and accents with bite, but it’s strangely perfunctory, as though the music has been worked over too often. And the players’ overall tone – especially that of first violin Arvid Engegård – is frustratingly thin, and quite piercing at times.

It’s a sense carried over into their Bartók Fifth Quartet, which seems doggedly undramatic. The playing has a gloriously propulsive energy, full of vigour and freshness, but the players seem intent on smoothing over contrasts and playing down extremes – dynamics, for example, seem restricted into a middling range, and Bartók’s jagged rhythms are made far more workaday.

The violin-and-viola Duplex by contemporary Norwegian composer Arne Nordheim fares better, however, in an energetic, engaging performance from Engegård and violist Juliet Jopling of such richness and depth that it’s hard to believe there are just two instruments playing

David Kettle