> Haydn Quartets: Festetics [KM]: Classical Reviews- June 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
String Quartets Op. 50

String Quartet in B minor Op. 50, No. 1
String Quartet in C Op. 50, No. 2
String Quartet in E flat Op. 50, No. 3
String Quartet in F sharp minor Op. 50, No. 4
String Quartet in F Op. 50, No. 5
String Quartet in D Op. 50, No. 6
Festetics Quartet (István Kertész, violin; Erica Petöfi, violin; Péter Ligeti, viola; Rezsö Petorini, cello)
Rec: August 1999, Technical Library, Budapest.
ARCANA A 415 [151.00]
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Not many string quartets play on period instruments, perhaps because the public for this music is not familiar with their sound, but also because much of the string quartet repertoire goes beyond the period that these instruments usually cover. The Festetics is one of the few top-rank quartets that does use such instruments, and has focused on the late 18th and early 19th century repertoire - Haydn, Schubert and Mozart - though they have also recorded works by other composers, such as Liszt.

There is a noticeable difference in the sound of this ensemble when comparing it with other quartets. The instruments are more trenchant, the sound is more limpid, and the texture less homogeneous. It is far easier for such an ensemble to create a sound of four instruments interacting, as opposed to a unitary sound that is a mixture of those instruments.

It is therefore a delight to hear them perform Haydn’s six Prussian quartets, his opus 50. These works, full of surprises and stylistic quirks, represent a microcosm of Haydn’s writing for this genre. From lively, highly melodic movements, to the fugal finale of the fourth quartet, this set shows Haydn’s vast range of compositional techniques.

The Festetics give brilliant performances. They develop a texture that carries the music along, both in the slow movements and in the faster ones. There is real joy in some of the more cheerful sections, such as the finale of the first quartet, a vivace with a delightfully juvenile tone.

Sample 1: disc 1 track 3 0:00

But they also give a cerebral reading of the dense fugal finale to the fourth quartet, with each instrument staking out its own territory, providing a musical discourse that recalls Bach.

Sample 2: disc 2 track 4 0:00

The opening movements of these quartets are the longest of each one. These, all marked allegro or vivace, are the cornerstones of the works. These readings are often introspective, and, at times, may seem to be lacking in vigour, but the tonal colours the Festetics give these movements are intriguing and unique. The opening allegro of the sixth quartet, a somewhat "typical" allegro for Haydn, is played with élan, but not too much.

Sample 2: disc 2 track 12 0:00

This set is for those interested in discovering a tone that is far from what many string quartets produce. While the only negative point I could mention is the occasional lack of energy, the overall sound and individual colours are so attractive that this is a moot point. To hear this recording it is as if to listening to waves of sound flowing over your ears. Enjoy the beautiful sound (and excellent recording), and bask in the delight of such magnificent music.

Kirk McElhearn


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