This lovely CD can be taken two ways. You can just listen to it; it’s gentle, refined and atmospheric. The so-called Sun quartets of Joseph Haydn’s Op 20 are said to be the benchmark that subsequent composers aim for. It’s the music you hear in a National Trust shop when they want you to imagine you lived in the grand house you just walked round.
Alternatively, if you know a bit about music, you can appreciate it for the complexity, unpredictability, and general cleverness. The sleeve notes themselves go into a detailed description of the first 24 bars and four phrases, before noting that detailed descriptions of the tricks and bluffs written into the music could be written for every section.
The Chiaroscuro Quartet play beautifully, too. Chiaroscuro is an oil painting technique that uses strong tonal contrasts between light and dark to model three-dimensional forms, and Chiaroscuro perfectly balance delicacy and weight in the music.
The sleeve notes list the three violins and cello played, dating from 1570 to 1780. Anyone interested should Google “Planet Money: Is a Stradivarius just a violin?”, in which the economics podcast does two blind tests of a Stradivarius v a new violin.
This is out now on BIS (SACD) BIS2168.