The integrated sound of the Quatuor Mosaïques represented an ideal basis for the opening of Haydn’s rather serious C-minor String Quartet. The Moderato moved forward, regular in rhythm yet always expressive. In his earlier works, Haydn tended to give precedence to the leader and Erich Höbarth’s violin stood clear when required, not because of forcefulness, but rather through his bright elegant tone. The equality of balance and unified strength of the sound ensured that throughout the evening, forte passages glowed. Rhythmic emphasis enhanced the Minuet which sounded like an unhurried Ländler. The Adagio cantabile was tenderly presented with a Finale taken swiftly yet gently.
To include lesser-known contemporaries in concerts of eighteenth-century music is always exciting. From his dates (1773-1812) Joseph Wölfl might be expected to have some similarity to Beethoven – especially since at the time of Opus 10/4 the two composers were spoken of as being the greatest pianists of their day. Wölfl however has an individual style with just a hint of the influence of Michael Haydn with whom he studied. I found the simple but tuneful Minuet something of a highlight – enhanced by the rustic rhythms given here. The other movements are in what may be described as ‘approximate sonata-form’. The opening Allegro starts interestingly spreading upward from the cello until the leader takes up the theme but this effect never returns although the cello refers to the brief opening phrase. Placed third, a cheerful Andante is followed by an invigorating Finale marked Prestissimo. Let’s hear more Wölfl.
Opus 74/2 represents Haydn in his maturity and the Mosaïques members’ combination of firm tempo within which they fashion the ideas meaningfully is ideal. Its form is strictly Classical except that the first eight bars (which might be expected to represent the main theme of the Allegro spiritoso) never reappear. Elegance was a feature of the Andante grazioso; in it a two-part theme is followed by a first variation led by viola, the next features second violin. I was puzzled that the three statements were made firstly with both repeats, then with one repeat, then with neither. These players have a keen sense of structure so there must have been a reason for this unusual decision. Again a delightfully bucolic element was evident in the Allegro Minuet – Quatuor Mosaïques always convince in dance movements. The dashing final Presto was swept excitingly forward. An effect could be made by slowing the tempo playfully at the curious fermatas just before the coda – the Vertavo Quartet did so at this venue a month ago – but the Mosaïques music did not impose, they drove on vigorously; Haydn’s jokes don’t need underlining.
As an encore we were charmed by the Adagio cantabile from Haydn’s Opus 64/4: a perfect vehicle to demonstrate the unified beauty of tone and sensitivity displayed by this ensemble.