D minor, K421
E flat, K428
[Guillaume Sutre & Luc-Marie Aguera (violins); Miguel da Silva (viola) and François Salque (cello)]
International Chamber Music Season - 13th December
Thursday, December 13, 2001 Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse
Mozarts six Haydn Quartets, his practical and aesthetic response to Haydns Op.33 set, initiated a compositional trajectory that continued unbroken for over 150 years. Central to the repertoire, they embody a transition from the absorption of Haydns quartet writing to its deployment in a manner quintessentially Mozartian. This does not make the earlier ones in the series at all derivative or eclectic, and a fascinating aspect of hearing the first three quartets in sequence is the way in which Mozart refashions, in the process of emulating, the precedent laid down by the older master.
K387 balances a Haydnesque contrapuntal density and motivic economy with a harmonic richness that is Mozarts alone. The Ysaÿe Quartet got this balance exact in the ruminative opening movement, while the thematic elaboration of the Menuetto had a muscularity that was almost Beethovenian. The focus on melodic subtlety in the Andante is the nearest thing to relaxation in this work, and the intricate fugal tracery of the finale effortlessly conflates its emotional apex with the completion of its musical process. Searching and understated, this was undoubtedly a performance from the heart.
If the remaining two quartets didnt quite attain this technical and expressive unity, there was no doubting the Ysaÿes insights. Concerning K421, the tense drama of the Allegro was a little too flaccid to make the required contrast with the pathos of the Andante, and though the harmonic austerity of the Menuetto was powerfully wrought, the trio seemed unsettled rhythmically. The variations comprising the finale had a strong forward momentum, leading to a coda that makes essential the theme and the movements harmonic and tonal outline with uncanny consistency.
K428 is perhaps the least remarked upon of the set, though the marrying of Haydns formal clarity and wit with Mozarts expressive poise is surely at its peak. The Ysaÿes could have given a touch more emphasis to the opening movements unsettling chromatic motto that underlies its ensuing urbanity. The harmonic and rhythmic inflections of the Andante were perfectly judged, with the rustic elements of the Menuetto given very French refinement. The finales genial humour, elegantly caught here, prepares for the truly Mozartian discourse of the remaining three Haydn quartets.
Indeed, it is much-hoped that the Ysaÿes will return to the
South Bank to round off the traversal which, owing to the Hagen Quartets unavailability, they have unexpectedly commenced. Few current outfits can match their equanimity of ensemble or tonal finesse, while the fastidious interplay of Luc-Marie Aguera and Miguel da Silva in the crucial inner parts was a constant pleasure. Under-projected? Occasionally, but this was a small price to pay for quartet-playing of a naturalness and
unselfconsciousness rarely encountered in recital today.