Music at Paxton

Chiaroscuro Quartet

Paxton House, by Berwick

Keith Bruce

four stars

THE PICTURE Gallery at Paxton House is unarguably one of the most beautiful environments in which to hear chamber music, and blessed with a lovely acoustic to boot, but on Sunday evening it was also a very warm airless room that was a challenge to the capacity audience as well as to the performers.

That Alina Ibragimova and her colleagues in the Chiaroscuro Quartet seemed utterly unperturbed by any difficulties presented by their environment, although they perform with baroque bows on gut strings, speaks of their calm professionalism. That the three women in the group also wore their sculpted crepe-de-chine uniform jackets throughout the recital made the point even more stylishly eloquent.

Perhaps simply less common in these democratic days rather than unfashionable, the Chiaroscuro is always very clearly under the leadership of Ibragimova, and the repertoire they played - 1781 Haydn, one of Beethoven’s first quarters and Mendelssohn from his time in the Britain Isles - also seemed chosen for the dominance of the first violin throughout. Abragimova is a marvel though: her louche way with the little glissandi in the second movement of the Haydn was as witty as anything else in the work nicknamed ‘The Joke’.

That joke is the repeated false ending to the finale, and the whole programme took that idea on. The warm tone of the period instruments gave the pianissimo passages of the Beethoven a special character, yet its third movement and the cross-rhythms of the second movement of the Mendelssohn also seemed to sound startlingly modern in the historically-informed approach. The inventive thematic variations of the Beethoven are mirrored and even exceeded in Mendelssohn’s big Molto allegro e vivace finale, but what was consistently being demonstrated was the art and skill in recapitulation common to the finest work of all three composers.