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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
String Quartets, Op. 50 (1787-88)

No. 1 in B flat major
No. 2 in C major
No. 3 in E flat major
Lindsay String Quartet
Rec. 24-26 June 2003, Holy Trinity Church, Wentworth, Yorkshire
ASV GOLD GLD 4007 [70.43]


Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
String Quartets, Op. 50 (1787-88)

No. 4 in F sharp minor
No. 5 in F major
No. 6 in D major ‘The Frog
Lindsay String Quartet
Rec. 8-10 April 2003, Holy Trinity Church, Wentworth, Yorkshire
ASV GOLD GLD 4008 [68.53]

During the 1780s Haydn’s fame spread across Europe, though he maintained his employment and residence in the service of the Esterházy family. The commission for symphonies from Paris was followed by that for The Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross for the Cathedral of Cádiz, while in Vienna the publishing house of Artaria asked in 1784 for another set of six to follow upon the success of the Op. 33 set. Haydn duly obliged, though not immediately, and the first quartets of Op. 50 were delivered in 1787, by which time he had received the dedication of the six wonderful quartets composed in his honour by Mozart.

Some commentators have suggested therefore that Haydn’s Op. 50 represents his response to the Mozart quartets. And in terms of timing, they are. Listen for example, to the weighty and somewhat serious tone of the minuet movements, and compare them with the first of Mozart’s ‘Haydn Quartets’, K387. The case is certainly a strong one.

That said, Haydn’s manner is not generally Mozart’s, and these pieces show little of the melodic prodigality of that master, but rather the intellectual imagination and subtle development techniques, not to mention the special wit, that inform Haydn’s own special personality. The most telling case is, of course, Haydn’s Quartet in F sharp minor, Op. 50 No. 4.

The Lindsays are experts in the Haydn repertory, and unlike many ensembles they seek to maximise the music’s toughness, its unusual and compelling individuality. The rhythms are sometimes dogged, with tempi that allow every phrase to tell. Individual players contribute details to the general effect that make a strong impression. For example, in that same F sharp minor Quartet the cellist, Bernard Gregor-Smith, makes a powerful impression with his darkly dramatic entry. Haydn said of his life at Esterháza: ‘I was cut off from the world and therefore forced to become original.’ This movement is surely exactly what he meant.

The same might also be said of the finale of this, the most remarkable of the works featured in this collection. It is a fugal movement and the Lindsays deliver it with a special intensity that says everything about their qualities as an ensemble, and about their affinity with this particular composer.

If this Quartet makes a strong impression, both as music and performance, the remaining five are splendid too. In these pieces the tone is more towards those other Haydn characteristics: vitality and wit. The celebrated Frog Quartet, with its extraordinary croaking sounds, is the most potent example, of course, but the playing is exemplary in every one of these pieces. The attention to details of dynamics brings out the character of Haydn to the full, and nowhere more than in the slow movements. For example, the Adagio of No. 2 in C major gains from the intensity of feelings the Lindsays create.

These performances can be recommended as the best available in this repertoire. Op. 50 is not so often recorded and the Lindsays will surely be the benchmark for years to come. The recorded sound is clean and true, and each of these marvellous works exudes its own personality in every bar.

Terry Barfoot

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