Chiaroscuro is an Italian word referring to the play of light and dark in the visual arts. But it can apply to music as well, as the Chiaroscuro Quartet proved in their recent concert at Wigmore Hall. The quartet, founded in 2005, offered some brightly flickering Haydn and some deliciously dark-toned Schubert for its online audience.

Chiaroscuro Quartet
© Wigmore Hall

Even though this quartet has been around for more than 15 years, listeners are still clucking about the devices used to achieve historically accurate performances, such as horsehair on the bows and gut for strings. Be assured, however, that no creatures were harmed in the production of these instrumental adjuncts. They emit a sound with a creamy consistency and woodsy depth, though lacking the occasionally necessary hit of metallic brilliance or the silvery scrape that sends shivers down the spine.

The same musicians who founded the group remain today: Alina Ibragimova and Pablo Hernán Benedí, violins, and Claire Thirion, cello, with one exception on the night of this concert. Hélène Clément was called at the last moment to fill in for violist Emilie Hörnlund. It is a sign of the unimpeachable professionalism and polish of this ensemble and its guest that one would not have perceived this short-notice substitution were it not for the announcer’s introduction. But this shouldn't be a surprise. Clément is no stranger to audiences or the selections on this program thanks to her roles in the Doric Quartet and Aurora Orchestra.

Chiaroscuro Quartet
© Wigmore Hall

The program opened with Haydn’s String Quartet no. 32 in C major, “The Bird”, Op.33, no.3. If the sound of this group is what we suspect we would have heard 200+ years ago, their appearance is quite a different matter. Dressed in casual black, the musicians were decidedly animated, with lively expressions and full of contagious enthusiasm in one of Haydn’s most cheerful quartet openings. I don’t know who gave this work the sobriquet, “The Bird”, but it is well named for its cheeky pecking rhythm and fanciful flights in four sweet movements. The quartet members seemed to be having fun, and so did we.

The second work on the program was Schubert’s String Quartet no. 13 in A minor, “Rosamunde”, D804. Nimble fingers danced from minor to major and back, bows flashed and flew, creating shifting moods with quick reflexes. The overcast theme persisted save for the second movement which features a hummable air from Schubert’s opera, Rosamunde. But under the tender ministrations of the Chiaroscuro Quartet, this was only a brief respite, and the work concluded on a note of yearning which, among Western composers, only Schubert seemed able to sing.


This performance was reviewed from the Wigmore Hall live video stream

Watch the video here
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