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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
String Quartet No. 66 in G major, Op. 77/1 (1799) [24.29]
String Quartet No. 67 in F major, Op. 77/2 (1799) [25.57]
String Quartet No. 68 in D Minor, Op. 103 (1803) (incomplete) [9.55]
Takács Quartet: (Gabor Takács-Nagy (violin); Károly Schranz (violin); Gabor Ormai (viola); András Fejér (cello))
rec. Church Studios, Crouch End, London, England, June 1989. DDD
DECCA ELOQUENCE 476 2575 [60.38]

 

 

The Universal Music Group with their Australian Eloquence series continue to delve into the back catalogues of major record labels Decca, Philips, ABC Classics and Deutsche Grammophon. From the Decca archives Eloquence have reissued these performances by the Takács Quartet. This release is from the original line-up of the Takács Quartet, who specialised in Haydn string quartets.

The Takács was formed in 1975 at the Franz Liszt Academy in  Budapest, Hungary by Gabor Takács-Nagy, Károly Schranz, Gabor Ormai and András Fejér, when all four were students at the Academy. The Takács is based in Boulder, Colorado, where it has been in residence at the University of Colorado since 1983.  

This recording was made in 1989 and since then several changes have occurred in the ensemble’s personnel. For the record, the Quartets founder Gabor Takács-Nagy left in 1993 to pursue a solo career and the original violist Gábor Ormai died in 1995. Two Englishmen joined the Takács Quartet, the violinist Edward Dusinberre in 1993 and violist Roger Tapping in 1995. Of the original ensemble, the Hungarian-born violinist Károly Schranz and cellist András Fejér remain. After ten years service violist Roger Tapping left the Quartet to be replaced by Geraldine Walther, principal violist of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.

The Op. 77 pair from 1799 were composed in response to a commission from Prince Lobkowitz for a set of a projected six quartets, of which only two were completed. The two ‘Lobkowitz’ quartets are performed splendidly with highly persuasive and sensitive playing. Here the Takács convincingly communicate Haydns range of experience from rustic earthiness, sociable wit and lyrical tenderness.

Ill health prevented Haydn in 1803 completing his String Quartet in D minor, Op. 103, his last attempt to write for the genre. The Takács interpret the two completed middle movements with considerable taste and eloquence. Especially well performed is the dignified Andante grazioso in a finely blended interpretation that provides a wealth of subtlety and wonderful expression.

These are fine performances from the youthful Takács. However it would have been preferable for the Hungarian players to have provided a touch more spontaneity and increased vivacity in the Allegro movements, attributes that the Lindsays and the Kodály admirably convey in their accounts.

My preferred version of these Opp. 77 and 103 quartets is the recent release from the Lindsay Quartet, recorded in Wentworth, England in 2004, on ASV Gold GLD4010 c/w String Quartet in D minor, Op. 42. In my recent review I stated that the English-based Lindsays (who have now disbanded) display spontaneity, excitement and high integrity. They successfully blend a commitment and enthusiasm that carries the listener along with the exhilaration of the moment, together with appropriate measures of graciousness and melancholy. There are ensembles around with a higher level of security of ensemble than the Lindsays but very few with as much genuine musical rapport with the composer.

The Kodály, as part of their complete survey, provide excellent versions of the two ‘Lobkowitz’ works on Naxos 8.553146 and the incomplete Op. 103 on 8.550346 c/w The Seven Last Words of Jesus Christ, Op. 51 (String Quartet Version). The energetic Kodály offer a refreshing directness to the scores and an impressive security of ensemble.

Those who prefer their performances on authentic instruments with gut string and classical bows cannot go wrong with the accounts of the Opp. 77 and 103 from Quatuor Mosaďques. Founded in Vienna in 1985 Quatuor Mosaďques are an alliance of Austrian and French players. The Mosaďques offer detailed state-of-the-art interpretations that are high on precision and intelligence, breathtaking sophistication and refinement. Their recording, made in Vienna in 1989, is available from Astrée Auvidis Naďve E 8799.

The liner notes here are from Misha Donat and are concise and highly informative. The recorded sound is of high quality being clear and well balanced. Fine performances from the Takács but not an urgent addition to a collection.

Michael Cookson

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