Chiaroscuro Quartet

Haydn: "Sun" Quartets, Op. 20 Nos. 1-3

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Haydn's "Sun" quartets, Op. 20, represented the experimental leap forward that preceded the profound new synthesis of Op. 33 almost a decade later, with what for Haydn's audiences must have seemed an almost bewildering variety of forms and movement sequences. The "Sun" title comes from a publisher's logo, nicely reproduced in the booklet here, not from the sunrise-like opening of the slow movement of the String Quartet in C major, Op. 20, No. 2, but that movement, with its remarkable quasi-dramatic quality (leading into a carefree minuet and a weighty final fugue), exemplifies the sheer variety of these works. The multinational Chiaroscuro Quartet pushes the music's sharp contrast forward in this recording of the first three quartets from the set, with considerable dynamic shifts and even a bit of tempo flexibility that's beyond the norm for Haydn. It's a trifle unorthodox, but it's done with great sensitivity to the details that make these works remarkable, and it all holds together. Sample the first movement of the C major quartet, where the unusual spotlight role of the cello is given its due by these performers in a way that few other performances have. BIS opts for a rather live sound from the Sendesaal in Bremen; everything's clear, but the music was meant for more intimate acoustics. A highly recommended new take on some Haydn standards of which there is no shortage of recordings.

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