Youthful Haydn proves a match for a young Brit

Ruisi Quartet: Big House

The Strad Issue: April 2023

Description: Youthful Haydn proves a match for a young Brit

Musicians: Ruisi Quartet

Works: Haydn: String Quartets: in D minor op.9 no.4, in F minor op.20 no.5 ‘Sun’. Locke: Fantasie in F major. Leith: A Different Fantasie from Suite no.5 in G minor; The Big House

Catalogue number: PENTATONE PTC 5187040

What connects seemingly disparate repertoire? The Ruisi Quartet’s imaginative and possibly eccentric debut solo album pits early Haydn quartets, written at a time when he was forging a new style, alongside Oliver Leith, a British composer in the early stages of his career. The sound worlds are widely contrasting, yet both challenge convention.

Leith is alert to microtonal writing and electronically hued grunge styles, which bleed into more traditional notation. The performance instructions bypass the norm, with requests such as ‘looser or lazier’. His quartet, entitled The Big House, takes inspiration from Yeats’s ‘The Curse of Cromwell’ with evocative movement titles such as ‘Blue Bottles’ and ‘Sunshine Choir’, the latter featuring still chords lingering in a haze of heat. A remixing of Matthew Locke’s Fantasie is bewitching. Leith was inspired here by the simple musical text replaying snatches on a loop.

Exploring such varied sound worlds has enlivened the Ruisi Quartet’s interpretations of the Haydn, which are defined by compelling spontaneity and supported by an excellent recording. It is almost as if they too have been liberated to search for new colours in such well-loved music. The Fuga a duo soggetti that closes op.20 no.5 is breath-taking in its clarity, while the slow movement of op.9 no.4 is gloriously poetic and expressive.


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