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Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
String Quartet Op.64, No.6 (hob.iii.64) in E flat major [18:02]
String Quartet Op.64, No.3 (hob.iii.67) in B flat major [20:09]
String Quartet Op.64, No.1 (hob.iii.65) in C major [22:00]
Quatuor Mosaïques: Erich Höbarth (vn 1); Andrea Bischof (vn 2); Anita Mitterer (vla); Christophe Coin (cello).
Rec. La Borie Studio (France), June 2003. ADD
ASTRÉE E8886 [60:11]

This recording of the Op.64 Haydn quartets ought to be dedicated to anyone who has ever doubted the quality and integrity of period instruments. Going on the evidence presented in this delicate Astrée package there is little wonder that Quatuor Mosaïques have achieved unanimous critical acclaim and numerous awards. And this stands as a compliment of the highest order from someone who was brought up on and swears by the Amadeus and Griller quartet interpretations of the Classical period repertoire.

Haydn’s mature Op.64 set of six string quartets was composed in 1790, the same year that saw the release of the composer from his Kapellmeister duties when Hungarian patron Prince Esterházy died. Dedicated to the violinist and businessman Johann Tost, three out of the six quartets (Nos.1, 5 and 6) were premièred in London at impresario Johann Peter Salomon’s concert season; but not before the composer had made a few alterations to accommodate a more theatrical British palate! It is this dramatic strain that proves such a strength in the quartet No. 6. Here we find bold unison statements, graceful melodies, violin acrobatics and cerebral contrapuntal passages. These are the building blocks of the expressive opening Allegro. The range and depth of this music could not have been better communicated than by Quatuor Mosaïques who at all times articulate with clarity and character. Particularly satisfying passages are the fugal entries [2:18] and the imitative dialogue; each in perfect proportion.

The Andante is just as strong for its impeccable control and sense of wisdom. With the cello entry, a sobering resonance meditates through the texture; the musical warmth and solidarity across the ensemble is brilliant. Within this tranquil framework an independently-minded first violin breaks into song over a broken chord accompaniment. The shift of scene is superbly handled by a sensitive collaboration of musicians.

A stately Menuetto is flamboyantly contrasted by the microscopically-detailed Presto finale. However the intricacies of the latter are handled with the same decorum that graces the former. This meticulous attention carves out any deviations with concrete definition; notice the pauses [2:38; 3:09; 3:12; 3:17] that stand out with potent feeling and significance.

Quartet No. 3 adopts an altogether different tone. Less concentrated than No.6, the relatively light-hearted opening Adagio is nevertheless elegantly propositioned. At one point [3:44] a dark corner of impetuous scalic imitation threatens to subvert the tranquillity but loses out to its calm exterior. The shifting portraits are handled with impeccable ease and unrelenting energy so that the musicians often compel the listener to buy into an almost visual conception of the music.

Two minuets stand at the centre of this courtly quartet. The second, Menuetto allegretto, leads with a dashing first violin tune that carries its obedient colleagues down a path of humorous and fragmented phrases. The Quator Mosaïques relish a nicely contrasted middle section that indulges in smoother lines and motivating syncopations. With the same professionalism the ever-punctilious instrumentalists narrate an exceptionally well-crafted fast Finale that is punctuated by pillars of surprising harmonic manipulations (0:42;1:52; 2:43; 3:47).

The final piece, Quartet No.1, is the simplest of them all and begins with a portly, low-pitched Allegro Moderato. Quator Mosaïques capture the composure with dignified gestures and faultless technique. Concluding with the tightly packed Presto finale – dense in both sound and texture – consolidates a sequence of performances that sustain a remarkable collaboration of musicianship and technical agility.

The remaining quartets of Op. 64 (Nos. 2, 4 and 5) have been issued separately on Astrée E8875.

Aline Nassif

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