Haydn - String Quartets Op.50
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Cat No: CDA68122
Number of Discs: 2
Release Date: 26th February 2016
The London Haydn Quartet:
- Catherine Manson (violin)
- Michael Gurevich (violin)
- James Boyd (viola)
- Jonathan Manson (cello)
1String Quartet in B flat major, op.50/1 - I. Allegro
2String Quartet in B flat major, op.50/1 - II. Adagio
3String Quartet in B flat major, op.50/1 - III. Menuetto - poco allegretto
4String Quartet in B flat major, op.50/1 - IV. Vivace assai
5String Quartet in C major, op.50/2 - I. Vivace
6String Quartet in C major, op.50/2 - II. Adagio
7String Quartet in C major, op.50/2 - III. Menuetto - Allegro
8String Quartet in C major, op.50/2 - IV. Vivace assai
9String Quartet in E flat major, op.50/3 - I. Allegro con brio
10String Quartet in E flat major, op.50/3 - II. Andante piu tosto allegretto
11String Quartet in E flat major, op.50/3 - III. Menuetto - allegretto
12String Quartet in E flat major, op.50/3 - IV. Presto
13String Quartet in F sharp minor, op.50/4 - I. Spiritoso
14String Quartet in F sharp minor, op.50/4 - II. Andante
15String Quartet in F sharp minor, op.50/4 - III. Menuetto - poco allegretto
16String Quartet in F sharp minor, op.50/4 - IV. Fuga - Allegro molto
17String Quartet in F major, op.50/5 - I. Allegro moderato
18String Quartet in F major, op.50/5 - II. Poco adagio
19String Quartet in F major, op.50/5 - III. Menuetto - allegretto
20String Quartet in F major, op.50/5 - IV. Vivace
21String Quartet in D major, op.50/6 - I. Allegro
22String Quartet in D major, op.50/6 - II. Poco adagio
23String Quartet in D major, op.50/6 - III. Menuetto - allegretto
24String Quartet in D major, op.50/6 - IV. Allegro con spirito
First up are Symphonies 78 to 81 (see here), designed to plug a gap in Decca’s complete set of Haydn symphonies on old instruments. The first of them, no.78, is the last work in a set of three (76-78) originally intended for an unrealised trip to London. Christopher Hogwood and his Academy of Ancient Music recorded numbers 76 and 77 (never released on Decca, though they briefly appeared on a much sought-after BBC Music Magazine disc). Now at last number 78 appears, and what a treasure it is. It may kick off in minor key Sturm und Drang mode, but that cloud soon passes, and the rest is sheer delight, especially when the playing is as vivid as it is here from the Accademia Bizantina under Ottavio Dantone. (Like Hogwood, Dantone eschews any keyboard continuo: there is no evidence that Haydn ever used one at Eszterhaza or Eisenstadt.) It’s not just the transparency that is striking about this performance, but also the warmth of the textures, and some wonderfully light flute playing in the spirited finale.
Joining no.78 on this double disc is another set of three, numbers 79 to 81. Completed in 1784, this shows Haydn on the verge of full maturity, and already brilliantly confident in the genre he made so decisively his own. These performances have real grace, but also abundant wit. Highlights include the wonderful moment in the ‘slow’ movement of no.79 when the Adagio cantabile suddenly becomes un poco allegro: a masterstroke that only Haydn could have come up with. Both this and no.81 are new to disc on old instruments, and period style makes all the difference in appreciating their many delights. There are further examples of genius in the D minor Symphony, no.80, with a wonderfully laid-back concluding passage in the first movement, and deliberately misleading syncopations to open the finale. Once again, Dantone and his musicians prove themselves worthy successors to Hogwood’s mantle. If you already have the Hogwood recordings (everything up to no.75), this is an absolutely essential and long-awaited addition; even if you don’t, it’s of a quality that demands to be heard on its own account, with sumptuous recording to match the playing.
The other Haydn project of the moment is the London Haydn Quartet’s ongoing cycle of the string quartets. Curiously, complete cycles of the quartets are as rare on disc as those of the symphonies, and (when they do come along) every bit as welcome. The LHQ have now reached op.50, not one of Haydn’s better known opera, being overshadowed by the brilliant op.33 which preceded it. But again, what a difference stylish playing makes to these ‘Cinderella’ works (originally dedicated to King Frederick William II of Prussia). All the virtues with which collectors of this series will be familiar are in evidence: pure tone, sparing use of vibrato, and a wonderfully pliant approach to phrasing and tempo. And the LHQ really ‘get’ this music, not just the jokes (as in the last two works of the set), but also the purely musical logic, the music-for-music’s sake feel of exploring motifs to their most logically satisfying extent, all within a circle of close friends. Here the recording (made at Potton Hall in Suffolk) really helps: close enough to suggest chamber music in its fullest sense, but with enough warmth to bring out the best of the instruments’ characteristics. The playing throughout is superb, a fine alternative to the rather more staid and traditional approach of the Hungarian Festetics Quartet (the only period instrument alternative, and currently only available in a complete box of variable quality). Previous recordings in the LHQ series have already been greeted with superlatives, and the latest instalment will be no exception: this is shaping up to be the finest cycle of Haydn Quartets yet. Unmissable!
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