A Viennese Quartet Party
This is a delightful programme focusing on the so-called 'composers' quartet of Vanhal, Haydn, Mozart and Dittersdorf, enhanced by Simon Russell Beale's captivating readings of colourful reminiscences by tenor and composer Michael Kelly, an insatiable raconteur who studied briefly with Haydn and was a close friend of Mozart.
As [The] Revolutionary Drawing Room quartet leader Adrian Butterfield points out in his excellent note, neither Vanhal nor Dittersdorf were top-flight composers, though painstaking research has turned up two gems of the quartet genre that show them in the best possible light. The Vanhal is cast in three delightful movements, closer to Haydn (especially in the dancing finale) than Mozart in style and distinguished by a particularly fetching central Adagio. Vanhal's erstwhile teacher, Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf (master and pupil were the same age!), emerges in his A major Quartet (also in three movements, only with a central menuetto) as the more interesting composer, with the occasional unexpected harmonic turn to the 'dark side' in the opening moderato.
With authentic gut strings and sparing use of vibrato, [The] Revolutionary Drawing Room (25 years old this year) create a lithe, crystal-clear sonority, refreshingly free of jet-setting pyrotechnics, caputured in the gently cosseting acoustics of St Mary's Church, Walthamstow. The players also succeed in recreating the shock of the new in the Haydn and Mozart quartets, making one especially aware how astonishing this music must have sounded at the time to an audience unaware of the direction music would take in little more than a decade.
Performance: **** Recording *****
- Julian Haylock