Another visionary interpretation from one of the great quartets of our time

Chiaroscuro Quartet: Haydn

The Strad Issue: June 2023

Description: Another visionary interpretation from one of the great quartets of our time

Musicians: Chiaroscuro Quartet

Works: Haydn: String Quartets op.33: no.1 in B minor, no.2 in E flat major ‘Joke’, no.3 in C major ‘Bird’

Catalogue number: BIS BIS2588

It’s always rather, ahem, surprised me that Haydn had to write more than 90 symphonies before any of them was called the ‘Surprise’. Similarly, only one of his quartets has earned the sobriquet ‘Joke’ – for its false ending, calculated, allegedly, to win a bet that ‘the ladies will always begin talking’ before the music had finished. But pretty much any of the six quartets of op.33 could qualify for the title, as humour abounds in all of them. ‘Drama, vehemence and weight have been displaced as priorities’ in op.33, wrote Paul Griffiths, ‘by Haydn’s greatest musical asset, namely wit.’

Alina Ibragimova and her colleagues in the Chiaroscuro Quartet get the joke. They’re right on Haydn’s wavelength, without telegraphing or fluffing the punchlines. The joke at the end of the ‘Joke’ is played so quietly that Haydn’s audience may well not have heard it at all. The faux-vulgar slides in the Trio of the same work’s Minuet are ‘vulgar’ without being heavy-handed. And the relaxed conversation of the opening movement is as civilised and open-hearted as you could wish for.

They’re on board with Haydn’s deft characterisation, too. There’s a real fury to the finale of the B minor Quartet, a winning insouciance to the avian twittering of the ‘Bird’ and a delicious light-footedness to the same work’s loutish finale. The Chiaroscuro players are bang in tune with Haydn and bang in tune, to an uncanny degree, with each other. Beautiful playing in the ideal acoustic of the Menuhin Hall at the Menuhin School. I can’t wait to hear the other half of the set.