Two minor string quartets recorded in the Ballroom of Government House, Hobart might sound underwhelming. but Virtuosi Tasmania provide a terrific match with Haydn and Debussy on their latest release.

Debussy’s stunning String Quartet in G Minor is thrillingly suspenseful. The second movement throbs with metronomic pizzicato, supplying fantastic textural contrasts. The Andantino, doucement expressif is painful in its beauty: this is the sort of music string quartets were created for. The romance comes to an impossibly peaceful ending, weakened only by a shaky beginning to the final chord. A pulsing cello drives the final movement to its brilliant finish.

Haydn’s String Quartet in F Minor, Op 20 No 5 sounds conservative and might have had more impact had it been placed first. This is not to suggest the two works aren’t an appropriate fit – in fact, Haydn offers an emotional respite after the intensity of the Debussy. Haydn’s reliably repetitive motives in the first movement are followed by a light Menuetto. Because of the subtlety of this quartet, the ballroom’s mildly reverberant acoustics are more apparent. The Adagio pulses like a lullaby before coming to a dreamy end, followed by the Finale: Fuga a due soggetti. These final movements would go well without a break, and despite the Finale’s darker feel, the quartet still retains the lightness of the third movement before its bold conclusion.

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