The Jubilee Quartet provided the most stylish of Haydn performances and the musicians’ often very personal way of fashioning melodies never imposed upon eighteenth-century style: there would be the occasional violin decoration on a fermata during a repeat, there was proper use of the appoggiatura and there was no manipulation of tempo; in fact the players interpreted Haydn in a manner which suggests that they were devoted to bringing out the inner meaning of his music.
The intensely hushed realisation of the G-major Quartet’s second theme was a typically striking feature of the approach; indeed dramatically soft playing frequently enhanced the more lyrical themes. Melodies were shaped with freedom of expression yet the basic tempo was never compromised – a lesson in the perfect use of rubato. The second-placed Minuet of Opus 64/4 was eased into graciously and every melodic idea thoughtfully articulated yet the rhythm of the dance was not impeded. The gently humorous Trio, though framed by substantial pauses and performed in a whimsically flexible manner still retained the basic unhurried pulse. Beauty of tone informed the Adagio with the cello’s lines making a clear but warm impact. The Finale again featured subtle differentiation of dynamics.
Opus 54/2 has an unusual structure with a Finale in which a fierce central Presto section has an Adagio either side. The players’ freely expressive style enhanced the composer’s creation but Haydn’s carefully constructed form was never compromised. The Minuet, led-into from the slow movement without pause, was notable for its lilting rhythm and it swept boldly into the lively Trio section. The unusual Finale was approached thoughtfully with calm lyricism. This style contributed to the impression that the work now appears to have two further slow movements and in this interpretation the composition anticipates the Romantic era.
Coming between the two C-major works, Schubert’s C-minor Quartettsatz was superb. Rising from a barely audible hush, this remarkable piece was gripping throughout. I have always considered it to be a notable work but the Jubilee Quartet revealed elements that previously I had not fully comprehended. The momentarily forceful moments were contrasted in a thrilling manner and the lyrical melodies were deeply moving. Of the many performances that I have heard, this is the greatest.Haydn’s Opus 20/2 is a mature work – academic in that the Finale is a fugue with four subjects and it has an expansive and dramatic opening movement marked Moderato. I appreciated the veiling of tone at the start of the Adagio where the lower strings seemed similar to that of viols. This time the Minuet has peasant-like rhythms and again shaped subtly within an unhurried, lilting rhythm. The tricky interplay of the fugue was brought off immaculately – every inner voice clearly heard.
- The Jubilee Quartet has recorded these Haydn pieces for Rubicon; to be released on March 29