By Greg Cahill | From the March-April 2023 issue of Strings magazine
Joseph Haydn bestowed upon the world the classical string quartet form. Nearly 300 years later, the Ruisi Quartet (recipients of a 2019 Career Development Award from the Banff International String Quartet Competition) bridges time with a vibrant program spanning the centuries through the music of Joseph “Papa Joe” Haydn, Matthew Locke, and Oliver Leith.
(Pentatone)Their engaging program begins with Haydn’s String Quartet No. 11 in D minor, Op. 9, No. 4, composed c. 1769. Nearly a century earlier, the Baroque composer and music theorist Locke had helped pave the way for Haydn through his exploration of the viol consort and the improvisational nature of the musical fantasie. His Fantasie in F is included here, juxtaposed with the Baroque-inspired piece A Different Fantasie from Suite No. 5 in G minor, a modern work by the 33-year-old Leith and the lead-in to Leith’s very modern quartet The Big House, a seven-movement Ruisi commission that had its premiere in 2021 at Wigmore Hall in London.
The Big House is the perfect companion to the program’s closer, Haydn’s moody String Quartet No. 23 in F minor, Op. 20, No. 5, in which Papa Joe rejected the courtly galante style to define the string quartet form while using fugue to establish the independence of the instruments. The Ruisi provide a superlative program, dazzlingly conveyed and aptly displaying the vitality of the string quartet form—a big house, indeed.