Revelatory middle- and late-period Beethoven from the Chiaroscuro

The Strad Recommends: Chiaroscuro Quartet: Beethoven


The Strad Issue: January 2024

Description: Revelatory middle- and late-period Beethoven from the Chiaroscuro

Musicians: Chiaroscuro Quartet

Works: Beethoven: String Quartets: op.74 ‘Harp’, op.130

Catalogue number: BIS BIS-2668 (SACD)

Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ Concerto is op.73, and yet this account of op.74 already belongs to another, inner world. Forget the standard platitudes of the quartet’s sunny disposition. The Chiaroscuro answers those passing beams of pizzicato sunlight with fiercely furrowed accents that intensify through the development section, in which Emilie Hörnlund’s viola makes an especially strong impression.

There is just enough warmth to the vibrato of violinists Alina Ibragimova and Pablo Hernán Benedí to bring songful consolation rather than existential chill to the Adagio. Indeed, one notable feature of these performances is a palpably established sense of place and time in such apparently timeless music. This sensitivity brings the variation-form finale of op.74 to rest with a nicely judged equilibrium that still has one foot in the 18th century.

Pure tone in op.130 inevitably delivers more of a shock on first listening. It turns out that a narrower-than-usual range of dynamics may still get to the heart of the first movement when the bowing and phrasing does not strain for a modernist effect. Indeed, the modulating turn to the major (8’30”) is as hauntingly tentative as I have ever heard it. So too the Danza tedesca transports us to a briefly recovered world of Haydnesque charm, while serving admirably as the preface to an intensely felt and poised Cavatina that, especially in Ibragimova’s hands, forms the culmination to a remarkable album. If the replacement finale pulls us back to earth, that is no fault of the musicians.

Peter Quantrill