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Edinburgh International Festival 2009 (11) - Haydn: Quatuor Mosaïques, Queen’s Hall, 24.08.2009 (SRT) 

Haydn: String Quartet in D, Op. 33 No. 6

Haydn: The Seven Last Words of our Saviour on the Cross 

At times the concert felt cursed. Both the first violinist and cellist had strings break at different points during the Seven Last Words, and members of the audience were literally keeling over in the heat of the Queen’s Hall. Happily, the playing made up for it. Haydn himself acknowledged the difficulty of pulling off seven adagios one after the other (eight if you include the introduction), so the Mosaïques concentrated on the melodic breadth that makes them all so different. The introduction was in strident D minor, while the melody of the First Word sang out in a glorious first violin melody. The radiant E major of the third was a moving meditation on a mother’s love, while the most tender moment was saved for the muted stillness of the Seventh Word, which sounded all the more beautiful in comparison with the earthquake that hurtled off after it. The Mosaïques remain one of the few quartets that play on “period” instruments, but they still manage a relatively refulgent sound and they use a fair portion of vibrato. Their stylistic skill was most on display in the Fifth Word, though, where the supremely sensitive bowing of the first violin (Erich Höbarth) turned an already bleak theme into a model of desolation, while the pizzicato accompaniment was pallid yet beautiful at the same time.

Happier fare was on offer in the D major quartet with its bounding first movement and remarkably intense minor-key slow movement. Haydn called the third movement a scherzo, but listening to it now you get the impression that he wasn’t quite there yet. However the witty set of variations made for a very sunny ending.

The Edinburgh International Festival runs until Sunday 6thSeptember at venues across the city. For full details go to

Simon Thompson


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