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Haydn may have invented the string quartet, apparently by accident, in the late 1750s, but it was only in his Op.9, Op.17 and Op.20 sets from 1769 –72 that he began to move towards a more purposeful examination of the form’s inherent possibilities. In particular, it was Op.20, prized by Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms alike, which changed the course of music history: here, as Rosemary Hughes has written, ‘the string quartet texture is finally achieved’, as all four instrumentalists participate in the musical conversation.

The Chiaroscuro Quartet’s second Op.20 disc, comprising Nos.4 to 6, repeats many of the good – and less good – attributes of their first disc, released in 2016. Their playing (on gut strings) has a sleek facility that can sound attractive but sometimes verges on the glib, and their interpretive choices seem a bit hit-and- miss. They impart an air of mystery to the D major’s restless Allegro di molto, then somehow miss the hushed beauty of the following Un poco adagio e affettuoso by rushing through parts of it. In contrast, Quatuor Mosaïques, on their benchmark Astrée recording, allow the music to unfold gently, paying due attention to its nuanced delicacy.

The Chiaroscuro make a good fist of the excellent F minor quartet (No.5), although the Adagio, which features their star violinist Alina Ibragimova in full virtuoso mode, perhaps takes on a flighty quality when compared to the Mosaïques, whose more collective version is a model of diffident loveliness. In the A major quartet (No.6), the Chiaroscuro find unexpected tenderness and a hint of yearning in both the Allegro di molto e scherzando and the closing fugue, which are more commonly dispatched with a breezy comic exuberance.

It’s a novel take, and the Chiaroscuro’s most persuasive intervention on the disc. Even so, as you’ve probably guessed, Quatuor Mosaïques’ Op.20 remains my top recommendation overall: their playing has the kind of insight and authority that bespeaks a deep love for Haydn’s wonderful music.

Graham Lock Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Early Music Today, 2017 - ©Rhinegold Publishing