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London Haydn Quartet
Early music specialists can be thugs sometimes. After the Kuijken Quartet's massacre of Mozart at the Library of Congress in February -- when three innocent string quartets were beaten senseless and left for dead -- music fans trembled in fear. Would more Mozart be sacrificed this year on the cold, harsh altar of historical authenticity?
Those fears were swept away on Friday night at the library, when the London Haydn Quartet played an all-Mozart program that was virtually detonating with musicianship and fresh ideas. The quartet plays on period instruments using historical techniques, which makes for a colorful and appealingly low-voltage sound -- but which can also quickly sap the guts out of Mozart. Joined by early-clarinet virtuoso Eric Hoeprich, the quartet's solution was to highlight the personalities of the individual players, resulting in music that was absorbing and genuinely honest. Or, in a word: authentic.
The program started with the Clarinet Quartet in B-flat, an arrangement of Mozart's Violin Sonata, K. 378. It's an amiable work, but the real pleasure was in Hoeprich's flawless technique and molten-gold tone. A tight, energetic account of the Quartet in F, K. 590 ("Prussian"), followed, as well as some historically interesting Mozart arrangements of Bach fugues.
But the high point was the radiant Clarinet Quintet in A, K. 581, played by Hoeprich on a re-creation of an 18th-century basset clarinet.
With its peculiar bulbous end, the thing looks downright cartoonish, but its sound just shimmers -- and Hoeprich's mastery of the piece made a perfect close to an altogether fascinating evening.
-- Stephen Brookes