This is currently my favourite late-evening listening among recent releases — it’s the third CD by the Chiaroscuro Quartet. Each CD couples one of the Mozart Haydn quartets with another work: this time it is Mozart’s Qt 15, K. 421 with Mendelssohn’s Qt 2, op. 13. The performances are extraordinarily fine.
The Chiaroscuro are friends with other musical careers, who come together for the pleasure of playing together — and oh, how it shows! There’s a sense of listening in to private music making of exploratory intensity. The leader is Alina Ibragimova whose solo work is stella beyond words, but here Ibragimova in no way overshadows Pablo Hernan Benedi, Emilie Hörnlund and Claire Thirion: the togetherness, the shared style and understanding, is astonishing indeed.
If you haven’t heard their previous CDs then initially their sound is a shock: they are playing on gut strings, almost without vibrato. So the timbre is spare, the period sound unadorned: it can take a couple of hearings to get used to it. And if — like me — you already know the Mozart well and the Mendelssohn hardly at all, then another surprise is how the Chiaroscuro bring the works much closer in their worlds than you have previously heard them. The Mozart is more troubled, the 18-year-old Mendelssohn more austere: but this makes for a revelatory and satisfying programme.
You can listen to excerpts on the Quartet’s website here. Very warmly recommended.