> Joseph Haydn - String Quartets [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- Sept 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
String Quartets Opp 71 and 74
The Griller Quartet
Recorded Hertz Hall, U C Berkeley, California February 1959
VANGUARD CLASSICS SVC 62/63 [2 CDs 102.59’]


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When William Primrose recorded the Mozart Quintets with the Griller Quartet – classic performances also available on Vanguard Classics 08 8024 71 and 08 8025 71 – he was, the story goes, not inclined to turn down the challenge of a couple of fast tempos. When it came to that kind of musical joust Primrose could be indomitable - as he was to show when, for example, partnering Heifetz in a memorably unmoving performance of K364. Here the Grillers are on their own, in California in 1959, eight months before those Primrose sessions and two years before the suicide of violist Philip Burton which led to the instant disbanding of a quartet that had been together, unchanged in personnel since its formation in 1928, thirty years before. I would however take issue with the biographical note – fine and embrionically successful they may have been but the Griller Quartet was certainly not the leading British Quartet by 1932, an honour that was held by the soon-to-disband but still active London Quartet.

There is much that is captivating in these mature but alive performances. The considered approach to tonal balance was exceptional, the questions of internal and external projection had clearly been successfully resolved; characterisation of movements and their relation to the whole Quartet (especially the Op 74) is undeniably impressive. There are some moments of questionable speed relation but otherwise these are challengingly lithe performances animated by superb rhythmic and tonal nuance. The courtly introduction to Op 71/1 and its naïve promenade reveals the tonal conformity of Griller and second violinist Jack O’Brien. If the old saw about judging a Quartet by its Second Violin has any truth then O’Brien is certainly an estimable member of the higher echelon of players. They find a simplicity and what I think it would be best to characterise as an affectionate distance in the Adagio of the same quartet. The finale is fluent and commensurately elegant. They meet the challenge of the downward octave leap in the opening movement of the D Major Quartet with implacable vigour and commitment though maybe the succeeding Andante cantabile lacks something of repose; the final movements are winningly witty however. There’s real and sustained delicacy in the playing of the Andante con moto of the third in the set of Op 71 with some glitteringly pirouetting work from Griller from 1’50 onwards. In the first of the Op 74 set Burton maintains the octave pedal note with absolute clarity and this is generally playing of superior instrumental technique, colour and also requisite seriousness. The dramatic spine of Colin Hampton’s cello line runs throughout the Allegro sprituoso of the Op 74/2 work – complete with internal clarity from all four voices. Especially admirable is the beautiful slow movement with its harmonic shifts and patterns. How well the violins scrupulously observe dynamic markings in the Minuet of the same work, as they take on the little trio section’s twists with real aplomb. Griller is elegance itself in the concluding presto assuming a soloistic part with convincing ease. The last of the set, the famous Rider Quartet is of a piece; the expressive diminuendos of the opening movement and the sustaining of the solemn slow movement herald a performance of sympathetic proportion, of high excitement balanced by considered gravity, of Haydnesque proprieties acknowledged and observed. A wise and humane way to end these still invigorating discs.

Jonathan Woolf

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