We went with high expectations to hear the Chiaroscuro Quartet playing in the Summer Music Festival in Cambridge on Saturday, but even so we were completely bowled over. They are just wonderfully good. If the quartet is ever playing near (or not so near) you, buy the tickets and go! And buy their recordings too.
I should have noticed from the pictures on their website — here they are in rehearsal — that they perform standing up (apart from the cellist, of course) and very close to each other. The two violinists in particular almost dance together in their expressive movement, and the ensemble between all four players is quite extraordinary. The quartet most certainly isn’t a star vehicle for Alina Ibragimova, but as ideally balanced as you’d hope. And interestingly, their sound in concert seems rather richer and warmer than on their CDs (they play on gut strings tuned at lower than modern pitch, and their recordings perhaps emphasize the unfamiliar timbre which results).
They played the Mozart E flat Quartet, K428 (which the Quartet have recorded on their second CD), which was predictably terrific. And after the interval came the eighteen year old Mendelssohn’s string Quartet (Op. 12, no. 2) — despite the numbering, his first written quartet. We hadn’t heard this for perhaps twenty years, and it was a delight. But the real revelation of the evening was the first piece they played, Haydn’s A major Quartet, Op. 20, no. 4. This was surely how Haydn should be played, with dancing lightness, grace, and utter musicality. Magical. As, judging from their applause, the whole audience recognized.