Music Review: Chiaroscuro Quartet at Djanogly Recital Hall

Photos: Agnese Blaubarde, Tim Hills
Tuesday 31 October 2023
reading time: min, words

Dubbed 'a trailblazer for the authentic performance of High Classical chamber music’ in Gramophone, this quartet performs on gut strings and with historical bows. For their inaugural concert at Lakeside they are joined by Matthew Hunt performing Mozart’s much-loved Clarinet Quintet, one of the great works of the chamber repertory...

Chiarascuro Quoartet 1600 900

Originally formed in 2005, The Chiaroscuro are known for playing gut strings with historic bows and are described by The Observer as a “shock to the ears of the best kind”. They have won many prizes all over Europe for their playing. Tonight they were; Alina Ibragimova on 1st Violin, Charlotte Saluste-Bridoux on 2nd Violin,  Emilie Hörnlund on Viola, and Claire Thirion on Cello.

Charlotte introduced the Quartet at the start and they began with Haydn’s String quartet in D, Op33. No3. Haydn, inventor of the String quartet, was almost fifty years old when he wrote these quartets. A hugely admired and respected composer and the influential teacher of a young Beethoven

As soon as the quartet began we knew we were in for a good evening. They were very animated, engaging with each other and almost dancing to the music, relishing their interplay. Tonight they were ably joined by Charlotte (as Pablo Hernán Benedi was not available). Unaware of this at the time, I thought they played very well and they enjoyed this Haydn as if they had played together many times before. The piece seems, melodically, quite simple at first. However, the music gets more complex with subtle variations as it is played. The quartet kept this elegantly controlled. Here was playing that prioritised feeling over technical precision. For me, this makes it much more enjoyable.

The second piece was Mendelsohn’s String Quartet in A Minor, Op13. The composer was very inspired by late period Beethoven, mercurial, with ever shifting melodies and harmonies. The Quartet play this with fluidity. From the delicate to the bombastic, the parts are clearly and expertly unravelled by the quartet. Making sense of what could be chaotic, I began to notice an interesting contrast in the tones of the First and Second violins. The First ‘slicing’ through the sound of the other players. Almost a bit too strident at times. Both pieces were very well received by the audience. 

After the interval, we were joined by Clarinettist Matthew Hunt. He had come to play Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet in A, K581 with the Chiaroscuro. It is very popular and so well known, you only need to listen to Classic FM for a couple of days to hear it. So why bother? Well, Matthew explained they were going to do something different with it. He had brought a copy of an 1802 clarinet with him. Shorter than the modern instrument and made of Box wood. It would provide him with several technical challenges. Not least of which, it lacked the necessary range of notes. However, they clearly felt that its gentle, warm tone, in combination with the Quartets gut strings and historic bows would be worthwhile, making the piece sound fresh again.

So, was it worth all the effort? Matthew had to work hard to get it all right and he did make a few mistakes but when it all came together is was breath taking. The combination of tones worked really sweetly, certainly a fresh interpretation of the piece. Matthew worked really closely with the Quartet, lots of eye contact and a sense of fun, conducting from the clarinet. There was a bit of a feeling that the quartet were rushing from one clarinet part to the next, especially from the first violin. Mainly due to enthusiasm to get to the next combined part.

Overall it was a very enjoyable concert. The Quartet working really well together, enjoying performing and clearly having fun. They were relishing the addition of a fifth member. Which was a winning combination. No Encore sadly, but three ‘Curtain’ calls. They have recorded many CDs and I think I will be checking out their Haydn ‘Sun’ quartets.

The Chiaroscuro Quartet performed at Djanogly Recital Hall on 26 October 2023.

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