’Tis Too Late to be Wise

Kitgut Quartet

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’Tis Too Late to be Wise Review

by James Manheim

"Kitgut" is an old word for catgut (which is not made from cat intestines), and sure enough, the Kitgut Quartet plays on historical instruments with gut strings. That's just one of the measures taken by the group to make English, four-part music of the late 17th century cohere with the Classical-era string quartet, here represented by Haydn's String Quartet in D major, Op. 71, No. 2. The ancestors of the string quartet lie in the Italian trio sonata and transitional genres like the Telemann Quadro, not in English music that happened to have four viol parts, and the Kitgut Quartet here conflates two different genres, viol consort music and instrumental pieces from theatrical works by Purcell and John Blow. Not only the instrumental sound but also the engineering has to be manipulated to make the program, with Haydn in the middle, hang together. The good news is that the players pull it off. They concede that Haydn and Purcell are two different animals but claim that "on closer inspection of the spirit, the contrasts, the play on spatial effects, the asymmetries, the dance motifs that help to structure the freest and most experimental developments, the dramatic and theatrical lyricism, one wonders if the person playing that game is not still the same." The Haydn outer movements play off the humor of the Purcell theatrical pieces nicely, with the consort music of Purcell and Matthew Locke providing the main contrast. The result is a curiously attractive program, where another layer is added to the musical meanings of the original material. It can be heard for its sensuous surfaces, or as a kind of experiment, and one awaits future releases from this young group.