HAYDN String Quartets, Op 33 Nos 2,3 and 5 – Mosaïques Quartet
The theme-and-variation finale of the G major Quartet, No. 5, is usually the movement I look forward to least in Haydn’s Op. 33. But the Mosaiques, at a rather slower tempo than usual, find in the music an unsuspected reflective tenderness. The theme itself is played with a characteristic touch of flexibility and a gentle lift to the dotted rhythms; in the first variation Erich Hobarth shapes his decorative semiquavers fioriture with apparently spontaneous fantasy; the luminous, high-lying textures of the second are exquisitely realized; and even the Presto send-off has a delicacy and whimsy in keeping with what has gone before. In the rival period-instrument reading the Salomon Quartet, with their more austere tonal palette, adopt a typically brisker, straighter manner here. The contrast is even more marked in the quasi-operatic Largo, where Simon Standage sounds detached and businesslike alongside Hobarth, with his contained intensity of line and subtle variety of phrase and colour. Nor do the Salomon match the Mosaiques’ comic timing in the outrageous rhythmic dislocations of the Scherzo.
The Mosaiques’ readings of the slow movements in the so-called Joke and Bird Quartets are again outstanding in their grave tenderness, their sensitivity to harmonic flux and the improvisatory freedom Erich Hobarth brings to his ornamental figuration. The Bird, in particular, receives as searching a performance as I’ve ever heard: in the first movement the Mosaiques steal in almost imperceptibly (no hint of an accent on either of the middle voices’ pulsing quavers or the leader’s high G in bar 2), respond vividly to the music’s richness and wit (the chirruping second theme pungently characterized, for instance), and bring a spectral pianissimo to the mysterious lull in the development (4'30'' ff). The Slavonic finale, one of several movements to benefit from the lighter, more flexible period bows, goes with terrific fire and panache.
In the opening Allegro of the Joke the players take to heart Haydn’s moderato e cantabile qualification, phrasing fluidly and expansively, with a vital and delicate interplay between the voices – though I would have preferred a stronger forward momentum in the latter stages of the development. The finale, like that of No. 5, is unusually graceful (like most groups, the Salomon are altogether more sportive here), with the notorious ending deliciously managed.
In sum, this truthfully recorded disc seems to me every bit as fine as the Mosaiques’