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By Fiona Maddocks

Haydn’s music, its very fabric, is steeped in wit: disobedient rhythms, downbeats masquerading as upbeats, strange harmonic twists, silences, mimicry, false endings. Try the “Surprise” Symphony No 94 or the “Joke” quartet, Op 33 No 3. It’s there even in works with no nickname or comic intention. The Jerusalem Quartet played three, early, middle and late, as part of Wigmore Hall’s Haydn String Quartet series, in which various world-class ensembles will perform the entire output. Op 33 No 3, the “Bird”, smiles, sings and chirrups jubilantly, with a characteristically antic rondo last movement.

Continuing an avian theme with Op 64 No 5, “The Lark”, named for its soaring opening phrase, and ending with the buoyant Op 77 No 1, the Jerusalem Quartet showed how a full-bodied, warm sound can work as effectively as a lighter, period-instrument approach (as favoured by a group such as the London Haydn Quartet). In the prestissimo finales of each, the Jerusalem musicians seemed to revel in the finger-twisting challenges, choosing wildly fast tempi. If that led to some reckless intonation, the impact was no more irksome than mud splashes on a downhill bike ride. It intensified a sense of exhilaration unique to Haydn.

February 18, 2018

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