The London Haydn Quartet (Catherine Manson, Michael Gurevich, James Boyd, Pierre Doumenge); Eric Hoeprich, clarinet, Works by Haydn, Beethoven and Weber, Playhouse, January 11, 2014

The London Haydn Quartet

The London Haydn Quartet

Vancouver Early Music brings us a wonderful stream of world-class artists in the coming months.  Their first concert was the London Haydn Quartet.  Formed in 2000, this ‘authentic instrument’ quartet has gained acclaim very quickly for their scholarly and thoughtful performances, already recording three CD’s of Haydn for the distinguished Hyperion label.  Part of their rapid ascent must be attributed to the presence of cellist Richard Lester, long associated with the legendary Domus Ensemble and the Florestan Trio, two British groups noted for their striking interpretative insight and imagination.  On this occasion, the very sensitive cellist Pierre Doumenge took over, but not to worry.  Doumenge comes from the same musical family; he and the founding violinist of Domus, Krysia Osostowicz, were both members of the Dante Quartet.  With Catherine Manson on first violin, we were almost guaranteed performances of thought and illumination.  And this is certainly what we got!  At the same, we witnessed a clinic on just how ‘original instrument’ performances can provide real dividends in terms of transparency, tonal subtlety and dramatic flexibility.

Eric Hoeprich

Eric Hoeprich

The opening Haydn Quartet, op. 50. No. 1 seemingly started from understatement; relatively clipped angular phrasing, with little vibrato, and very strong interplay between the four voices.  One noticed the way that the second violin and viola cut sharply across the more expansive phrasing of the violin and cello, and indeed how soft and precise the cello was, bringing a lovely still to the music at many points.  But perhaps this was deceptive.  The movement eventually gave way to the most explosive climaxes, the second violin and viola suddenly springing in unison from nowhere into the most intense and frenetic bowing that one might ever see.  This touch of wildness was very exciting but daring too, making the movement more complex and wide-ranging emotionally.  The sculpted treatment of the following Adagio built perfectly on this, balancing intensity and repose in convincing proportion.  And the bustling finale was brought home with a wonderful combination of perception and untamed momentum.

My first reaction to the early Beethoven quartet, op. 18, No. 3 is that it started just like the Haydn, with relatively sparse and austere phrasing.  But it should start like Haydn.  The master of the quartet influenced everyone, especially the young Beethoven.  But once again, initial appearances can prove deceptive.  Slowly, and with considerable subtlety, the ensemble brought out the additional strength and individuality of the latter composer as the movement gained intensity.  Some wonderful question and answer between the instruments in the following Andante, where the otherwise-sparse tonal fabric was sometimes moved out to a much richer expressiveness than normal.  And after a crisp and playful Scherzo, the presto Finale really brought playing to marvel at: full of wit, complexity and combustible energy. 

In the final work of the programme, Weber’s Clarinet Quintet, attention moved to the venerable clarinet virtuoso, Eric Hoeprich, who has been performing with authentic instrument ensembles almost since their birth pangs.  As came out in the pre-concert talk, the clarinetist actually made the 19th C. clarinet he plays, as a copy from the original.  With the quartet producing a richer and warmer tonal palette to go with a slightly later performing tradition, we certainly saw Hoeprich’s mastery here, the clarinetist exhibiting an exactness of articulation and a range of colour that would be difficult to match.  Of course, this is a lighter work where high spirits abound, and I think that is exactly the feeling that came out here.

This was a superb concert.  There was truly a freshness and imagination in both the Haydn and Beethoven performances, and I ended up thinking that both works were greater than I had previously thought.  While the Quatuor Mosaiques have owned this territory for a long time, I certainly would want to hear the London Haydn Quartet’s performances alongside, not least for their spontaneity.  The appearance of Eric Hoeprich in the Weber only added to the bounty.  Let’s hope they visit us again soon.


© Geoffrey Newman 2014


London Haydn Quartet