Haydn: String Quartet in B minor, Op. 64/2; String Quartet in G, Op. 64/4; String Quartet in D, Op. 64/5 (Lark)

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LABELS: Naïve Astrée
WORKS: String Quartet in B minor, Op. 64/2; String Quartet in G, Op. 64/4; String Quartet in D, Op. 64/5 (Lark)
PERFORMER: Mosaïques Quartet
Few quartets, period or modern, match the Mosaïques for refinement of ensemble, precision of detail and transparency of texture. And one of the joys of the quartet’s performances is the pure, glowing resonance produced by the four gut-strung instruments playing perfectly in tune. Yet its trademark finesse never precludes vivid characterisation and a command of the bigger picture. Each of Haydn’s sonata Allegros here combines ample space for pungent and witty detail with a powerful sense of direction: the players really know how to build and clinch a climax; and they are always alive to the comic-dramatic potential of Haydn’s pauses and irregular phrase lengths – above all in the wayward, faintly zany finale of the B minor. In some moods I might prefer less rhythmic pliancy and more straightforward vigour in the minuets, though it’s hard to resist the leader’s whimsical play with the grace-note upbeats in the minuet of the Lark. The stiffest competition in these works comes from the Lindsays, more physically exuberant in the quick movements, broader and more Romantically eloquent in the slow ones. I should hate to be without either. And the Lindsays score with, inter alia, their observation – and imaginative exploitation – of second-half repeats in sonata movements, usually omitted by the Mosaïques. But feeling the revolver in the back of my neck, I’d choose – today at least – the Mosaïques, for its superior poise and intonation (the Lindsays’ Achilles heel) and for showing how these works can be illuminated with the kinds of instruments and playing techniques Haydn himself would have known.