Haydn • Schumann
This release is on the short side: the Haydn and Schumann Quartets, complete with audience applause, last just over 45 minutes. The disc is filled out with an encore comprising a heartfelt but conventional Scottish folk-style Lament for Mulroy by second violinist, Donald Grant. On the other hand, the qualities for which the Elias String Quartet were widely praised on their Wigmore Hall Live debut disc of Schubert, Mozart and Mendelssohn are immediately evident from the opening bars of the Haydn Quartet: a keen feeling for musical character, immaculate ensemble, lively articulation and just the right degree of vibrato to ensure both warmth and clarity of sound. The inner movements harbour one or two spontaneities that might not wear so well on repeated listening, such as leader Sara Bitlloch’s over-forceful response to Haydn’s rhapsodic minor-key episode in the Andante. But the contrapuntal give-and-take of the genial opening movement, and the fizzing finale are especially successful.
The Schumann A minor Quartet – the first of three that he composed in just six weeks during the summer of 1842 – is a slightly uncomfortable mix, combining stylistic nods to Beethoven and Mendelssohn with Schumann’s personal lyricism. The writing sometimes lacks Haydn’s feeling for the resonance of the quartet medium, but the Elias genuinely catch the ardent waywardness of Schumann’s spirit. They also make something mesmeric of the sudden, still, drone-based episode near the end of the rustic-style finale.