Mozart. Mendelssohn – Chiaroscuro Quartet

Mozart. Mendelssohn Chiaroscuro Quartet 58’ 06”
Mozart Quartet K421, Mendelssohn Quartet 2, Op 13
Aparté AP092. 58’ 06”

 I first heard the Chiaroscuro Quartet (Alina Ibragimova, Pablo Hernan Benedi, Emilie Hornlund and Claire Thirion) when they were London students, and their talent was obvious from the start. Alongside Alina Ibragimova’s impressive (and well-deserved) solo career, the quartet are now making their mark in the world of period instrument quartets, with three CDs to date, all combining Mozart with a later composer.  After comparing Mozart with Schubert and Beethoven, they now turn to Mendelssohn, drawing connections between the 18 year olds’ Quartet No 2 and Mozart’s D minor Quartet (K421), written when he was a comparatively mature 27.  These talented young musicians, playing on gut strings with no vibrato to disturb the musical line, demonstrate inspiring musical minds and exceptional techniques, which they dedicate to the service of the music rather than self-aggrandisement.

In what is a rather intense programme, there are several magical moments, not least in the interpretation of the dark transition passage at the beginning of the second section of the first Mozart movement.  In contrast, their almost flighty playing of the Mozart trio is a delight, and a bit of relief in what is otherwise a pretty complex work. Their tonal unity in demonstrated in the several passages where the melodic line passes from one instrument to the other – imperceptibly in their case. The Mendelssohn is an emotionally powerful work, opening with what seems to be an innocuous song-without-words but quickly developing a much darker and more complex hue.  The slow movement opens with a similarly song-like theme before the viola leads into a plaintively chromatic fugue and a turbulent central section. Ever the tune-smith, Mendelssohn opens the Intermezzo with another song-without-words, before dissolves into a fairy dance.

One of the many strengths of the Chiaroscuro Quartet is their ability to play quietly, drawing the listener into their musical world. There are several examples in these two quartets, notably in transition passages. This is playing and musical interpretation of the highest degree.

My own quibble is with the complex programme notes, by Tom Service.  Rather than looking for links between the two pieces on the CD, his essay concentrates on rather convoluted links to Beethoven. The language become fanciful to a degree – do we really need to be told that our hearts will be in our mouths at the audacity of Mozart’s plunge into a discombobulating E flat major?

Extracts at


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