Wednesday 13 March 2019

Intimate conversations: the young Jubilee Quartet in three quartets spanning 20 years of Haydn's maturity

Haydn String Quartet - Jubilee Quartet
Haydn quartets; Jubilee Quartet; Rubicon Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 22 February 2019 Star rating: 4.5 (★★★★½)
Three quartets spanning nearly 20 years of Haydn's composing career, in vibrantly engaging performances from this young quartet

For its debut album on Rubicon, the Jubilee Quartet (Tereza Privratska, Julia Loucks, Lorena Cantó Woltèche, Toby White) perform three Haydn string quartets stretching across nearly 20 years of Haydn's composing life, the String Quartet in C major Op.20 no.2 (1772), the String Quartet in C major Op.54 no.2 (1788) and the String Quartet in G major Op.64 no. 4 (1790).

Listening to the music on this album, you cannot not be amazed at the sheer musical and technical imagination that Haydn brought to the string quartet. It was his influence which changed the genre from entertainment in the salon to a complex and challenging genre in which four players had an intimate conversation. It is this idea of dialogue and conversation which is central to the works. Whilst later composers might develop the genre further, Haydn rarely feels the need to rely for long on a violin-led texture with accompanying roles for the other instruments.

Haydn was 40 when he wrote his Opus 20 quartets, well established with a good job with Prince Esterhazy, yet life was not comfortable with the move to the prince's new palace on the site of a swamp and far from Vienna.
The result is a set of six quartets which created Haydn's soubriquet of the Father of the String Quartet. The Opus 54 quartets continue the Esterhazy connection as they were written for the violinist Johann Tost who was the member of the orchestra at Esterhaza. Here Haydn writes music of great virtuosity yet not just for the first violin, and this is not about show, we have music of great intellectual depth. Haydn's relationship with Tost was fraught, the composer accused Tost of taking the manuscripts off to Paris and trying to sell them, but as a performer Haydn clearly felt he could rely on Tost. The Opus 60 quartets, are a further set written for Tost and may be dedicated to him. They were published with the intention of appealing both to amateurs and to connoisseurs, and the music brings back the playfulness of some of Haydn's earlier writing.

The performances of this challenging music are exemplary with the quartet playing with great immediacy and a lovely sense of engagement with the music. Thanks to their nice clear, focused tone there is a great clarity to the music which emphasises the way the four players engage with each other, these are real conversations. I was impressed with the range of colour and texture which the players brought to the music, never shying away from using colour and texture to emphasise Haydn's rhetorical intent. Playing is often plangent, with a minimum use of vibrato plus an airiness and lightness which links to historical practice. This is modern instrument playing for our plural age where HIP and modern can sit side by side and influence each other. I was particularly struck by the moments where the players use bleached, expressive tone to make a point, articulating the drama of the music brilliantly.

If I have a complaint it is that whilst the players are fully responsive to the lively and perky moments in the music, and there are plenty of these, there is an overall seriousness to their playing which does not quite capture Haydn's humorousness and sly wit.

Jubilee Quartet (photo Kaupo Kikkas)
Jubilee Quartet (photo Kaupo Kikkas)
This is an impressive and engaging debut, the young players bring a lively freshness to the music and a depth of engagement which is very appealing. I certainly hope that they will be going back into the studio to record more of these wonderful quartets.

Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) - String Quartet in G Major Op.64/4
Joseph Haydn - String Quartet in C Major Op.20/2
Joseph Haydn - String Quartet in C Major Op.54/2
Jubilee Quartet (Tereza Privratska, Julia Loucks, Lorena Cantó Woltèche, Toby White)
Recorded at Potton Hall, Suffolk, 2-4 August 2018
RUBICON RCD1039 1CD [65.35]

Available on-Line.

Elsewhere on this blog:

  • Riveting drama: Peter Konwitschny's production of Halevy's La Juive at Opera Vlaanderen (★★★★★) - opera review
  • Claustrophobic & atmospheric: Verdi's Macbeth from English Touring Opera (★★★½) - opera review
  • Letting the music speak for itself: Mozart's Idomeneo from English Touring Opera (★★★★½) - opera review
  • Cadogan Hall debut: the Gesualdo Six in a programme of Renaissance and Contemporary (★★★★) - concert review
  • The Children's Hour: intimate and delightfully casual, Gareth Brynmor John and William Vann at Pizza Express Live - concert review
  • Haydn's The Seasons from Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra  (★★★★★) - concert review
  • Virtuosity and intimacy: Flauguissimo duo's A Salon Opera  (★★★½) - CD review
  • Political piano and terrific technique: Adam Swayne's (speak to me): new music, new politics (★★★★★) - CD review
  • Neapolitan revival: Rossini's Elizabeth in a rare staging from English Touring Opera  - opera review
  • Glitter and sparkle: The Merry Widow at English National Opera (★★★★) - opera review
  • Creating a contemporary choral tradition in Ireland: Desmond Earley and The Choral Scholars of University College Dublin  - interview
  • Dame Emma Kirkby's 70th birthday concert at the Wigmore Hall (★★★★★) - concert review
  • Home

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