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From their performance of K464, fifth of the six 'Haydn' Quartets, completed on 10 January 1785, one could appreciate the insight of Haydn's famous remark to Leopold made at the work's première: 'I tell you before God as an honest man that your son is the greatest composer known to me either in person or by reputation.' Quite apart from its precision and perfect intonation, the Skampa's blend and the unanimity of ensemble, rhythmic zest and articulation was astonishing.

The smoothness of the first theme's flowing quavers was marvellous, as too the delicacy of the chromatic second theme, with its beautifully nonchalant triplets following a dramatic halt by the leader, Pavel Fischer, well-judged for maximum impact. If there was a somewhat measured pace to the development, the recapitulation was strongly marked, again bringing out the wealth of imitation and dialogues amongst the four players which characterizes this masterly handling of the medium. This was even clearer in the Minuet, where transparent textures highlighted both motifs throughout their lively contrapuntal elaboration, with Mozart's thrilling dynamic contrasts observed and shading that kept the fluctuation of fore and background alive and varied, each new grouping of players adding new sound possibilities.

The Skampa Quartet. Photo © Ivan Pinkava
The Skampa Quartet. Photo © Ivan Pinkava

The variation movement sustained a dreamy gentleness, with new colours in each thematic guise, such as the misty whisper to the demisemiquavers of the second violin, Jana Lukásová. The fulcrum of the movement was the passionate, yet hushed minor variation, with its intricate interplay amongst cello and first violin, then second violin and viola, after which the cello's insistent drum rhythm was wonderfully evocative, spread to the whole quartet, all at a very hushed dynamic level. The chromatic, sinewy finale flowed with flair and momentum.

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Copyright © 26 January 2006 Malcolm Miller, London UK


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