Tuesday, May 22, 2012
Off the Beaten track
I have begun to explore the string quartet repertoire seriously rather late in life. This repertoire is heavily dominated by the really big names, and rightfully so, but I like to find those lesser known gems a little off the beaten track. This can be a challenge because there is a vast supply of lesser known and decidedly mediocre music.
The first part of the equation connecting me to this recording was the brilliant performance by Quatuor Mosaïques. I hesitate to pass what I would consider to be informed judgment on their musicianship, since I’m a self-declared neophyte to the genre, except to say I thought they played with a combination of brilliance and simplicity, warmth and intensity, and great sincerity. But, then, I’m perhaps easily impressed by any world-class string quartet. What really sets Quatuor Mosaïques apart is their sound: they play with gut strings a full half-tone lower than modern quartets, resulting in a rich sound that is deep, warm, and devoid of harshness. It is an addictive sound.
The second performance, by Marcia Hadjimarkos, introduced me to the new name: Jadin. Her program included a sonata by this previously unknown-to-me and I was impressed by the originality and quality of this music. I know I was not the only one who sat up and took notice. This led me to a little research.
The Jadins were one of those musical dynasties in France in the 18th century. Such dynasties seem to be especially a phenomenon of the period: others that come to mind include the Bachs, Bendas, and Couperins. Two brothers stand out, Hyacinthe (1776–1800), whose life was tragically cut short by tuberculosis and Louis-Emmanuel (1768–1853). Both were born in Versailles and Louis-Emmanuel learned piano from Hyacinthe.
The Jadins are not entirely unknown. The ArkivMusic catalog lists nine recordings with works of theirs, although most of them are period compendiums. The Quatuor Mosaïques CD caught my immediate attention and it was soon delivered to my doorstep.
The opening two quartets, Opus 3, no. 1 and Opus 2, no. 1, are by Hyacinthe. Opus 3 is very Haydnesque or reminiscent of early Beethoven: very pleasant, indeed. Opus 2, on the other hand, is one of those quartets that makes you sit up and take notice: full of surprises and top grade themes that stick in your mind all day.
The final quartet on the recording is by younger brother Louis-Emmanuel: his Quartet no. 2 in f minor. It is distinct in style from the first two on the CD and is enticing, with character and passion. Perhaps it is his only quartet that stands out, as there are no recordings of any of his other quartets.
It is great to get off the beaten track and find such treasures.