Badke Quartet & Maximiliano Martín at Wigmore Hall – Haydn’s Opus 1 Hunt & Brahms’s Clarinet Quintet

String Quartet in B flat, Op.1/1 (La chasse)
Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op.115

Badke Quartet [Charlotte Scott & Emma Parker (violins), Jon Thorne (viola) & Jonathan Byers (cello)] with Maximiliano Martín (clarinet)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 15 December, 2014
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Badke Quartet. Photograph: Ollie FordPerformances of Haydn String Quartets rarely explore the works composed before the ground-breaking set of six published as Opus 20. There are in fact five sets of six (including the spurious Opus 3) whose publication predate “The Sun” collection – and to begin this BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert at Wigmore Hall the Badke Quartet began at the beginning.

Haydn’s Opus 1/1 shares a nickname with Mozart’s ‘Hunt’ String Quartet – itself dedicated to Haydn. It also shares a profound slow movement, which came as something of a surprise in Haydn’s case after a relatively basic, triadic first movement. Haydn, of course, surprises frequently – though here the depth of emotion was assisted by the Badke Quartet’s lack of vibrato, the Adagio’s chords rather like the sound of a hurdy-gurdy.

Maximiliano Martín. Photograph: Ken DundasThe unusual structure of these early works takes the form of a divertimento rather than the ‘usual’ four movements. The five include two perky Minuets, the first of which enjoys a play-off between the violins (bowed) and the viola and the cello (pizzicato). The outer movements are quick, though the first was not taken as fast as its Presto marking implied. The finale is brevity itself, but not short of wit.

Such lightness of touch contrasted with a relatively introspective account of one of Brahms’s best-loved chamber compositions. The darker, autumnal hues of the Clarinet Quintet were explored in a performance in which clarinet and strings were presented as equals, and indeed there were times in the first movement where Maximiliano Martín could not fully be heard.

Yet gradually he asserted himself subtly on this performance, with an exceptional beauty of tone and phrasing for the outer edges of the Andante. He also took the lead for the graceful undulations of the Andantino, more an intermezzo than a scherzo. The finale was surprisingly stark, both in its first variation and in the closing pages where the work’s opening theme reappears. Initially this was a threat rather than a comfort, though as the music works to its conclusion there was a greater sense of resolve.

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