HAYDN String Quartet Op 64/6; SCHUMANN String Quartet Op 41/1
Slender tone, soft, delicate and withdrawn greets you at the start of Schumann’s First Quartet, the Introduzione played Andante espressivo as instructed. The Elias String Quartet observe the metronome marking (as they do in the other movements too) but there isn’t a hint of rigidity. Four carefully balanced lines move sinuously even through the many sforzandos on the second page and the hastening into the main Allegro is accomplished without awkward stiffness. Scholar Joan Chissell wasn’t struck by this movement or the finale, seeing ‘the material itself strangely impersonal for Schumann’. This calibre of performance, 55 years later, may well revise that opinion and confirm her belief in the ‘fleet, imaginative’ Scherzo, which also has many an echo of torment.
Schumann to Haydn may be a long haul but these musicians adroitly adjust to the different style. Mutual understanding and clarity of execution are matched to an approach perhaps gentler than expected in the first movement. But the Elias make their points and there is no lack of variety in mood, revealingly so in a precise Minuet that gives way to a looser, lyrical Trio, the ornaments played portamento, the second half graced with an alternative repeat. Notable once more is the slow movement, uneasy in the B flat minor section, otherwise introspective and mellow, drawing the listener into a quieter world, a quality that does proud second violinist Donald Grant’s Lament for Mulroy. Who he? Best find out by buying the disc. It’s excellent.