London Haydn String Quartet

The London Haydn Quartet who played for Cockermouth Music Society in January gave us a sparkling demonstration of how string quartets sound at their best. This is a group who play in baroque mode, using gut strings and baroque bows and the result is a mellow warm sound, not too loud, but perfectly attuned to an intimate atmosphere which was here so beautifully provided by the United Reformed Church. The players, Catherine Manson and Michael Gurevich, violins, James Boyd, viola, and Jonathan Manson, cello, play with precision, wonderful unanimity of tuning and above all with a positive confidence which comes from long association and understanding of the music they play. Two Haydn quartets (No 6 Op 33 and No 4 Op 76) were great examples of a composer who could take the spirit of the dance, courtly or rustic, and present it in ingenious ways so that it was always fresh and fascinating. The first quartet was very much in formal classical mode but gave us a feeling of how spellbinding this sort of music can be and how it would have been heard nearly three hundred years ago. The second, nicknamed the “Sunrise”, shows a development of the composer’s genius in taking old forms and weaving them into music with excitement and colour and here the Quartet brought out all the sonorities and musical ideas the stringed instruments are capable of. Then came music by Beethoven, a true successor and developer of the Haydn classical tradition. The quartet in E flat, Op 127, has four contrasting movements which the group treated with great understanding of what the music requires, now building tension, now expressing tenderness, and at all times producing richness of sound and great energy, all so wonderfully put across by musicians who work as a single glorious unit which was clearly appreciated by a large audience.