Lithe and captivating playing brings all manner of light and shade to Haydn

Chiaroscuro Quartet: Haydn

Chiaroscuro Quartet: Haydn

The Strad Issue: July 2020

Description: Lithe and captivating playing brings all manner of light and shade to Haydn

Musicians: Chiaroscuro Quartet

Works: Haydn: String Quartets op.76 nos.1–3

Catalogue Number: BIS 2348 (CD/SACD hybrid)

With the Chiaroscuro Quartet you truly get the best of all musical worlds. Using authentic instruments brings all the usual benefits, most notably on this occasion a phrasal litheness and unvarnished tonal purity that shines a sonic spotlight on Haydn’s insatiably inventive textural interplay. BIS’s sensitive engineering also ensures that the quartet’s refined projection is cushioned by a cosseting ambience, as it would ideally have been in Haydn’s day. A further bonus is provided by the quartet’s core sound, which magically avoids any ‘noises off’ and ensures that every note speaks with an in-depth fullness, which is extremely rare from period instruments.

Yet above all, it is the ensemble’s interpretative trajectory that arrests the attention here. Without the slightest whiff of HIP, these gifted players relish the expressive potential of their instruments with a bracing instinct for emotional narrative, which far from assuming a historiographical pose, brushes aside rhetorical convention with a forward-looking tendency. Haydn has rarely sounded so ‘modern’, especially in the opening movement of op.76 no.3, whose sudden drone-based outbursts sound (appropriately) like a rustic folk band in full swing. This is gloves-off playing that refuses to kowtow to convention (of any kind) and lets Haydn off the leash with a captivating brio that takes everything in its stride.