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Franz Josef HAYDN (1732-1809)
String Quartets Op.9
String Quartet in D minor, Op.9 No.4 [20:14]
String Quartet in C major, Op.9 No.1 [18:17]
String Quartet in G major, Op.9 No.3 [15:41]
String Quartet in E flat major, Op.9 No.2 [17:03]
String Quartet in B flat major, Op.9 No.5 [21:20]
String Quartet in A major, Op.9 No.6 [13:35]
Buchberger Quartet: Hubert Buchberger (violin); Julia Greve (violin); Joachim Etzel (viola); Helmut Sohler (cello)
rec. 26,28,29 October 2004 (nos.1 & 5); 9-10 December 2004 (nos.3 & 4); 26-28 May 2005 (nos.2 & 6) Evangelische Burgkirche Nieder-Rosbach, Germany. DDD
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 92886 [55:48 + 53:27]

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In 1802 an edition of Haydn’s String Quartets was prepared which had the composer’s approval. It began with the six quartets of opus 9, probably written between 1768 and 1771, rather than with the quartets included in Haydn’s opus 1 and 2; these were designated cassations, serenades or divertimenti à quattro and it is clear that Haydn viewed the opus 9 set as constituting the beginning of his serious work as a composer of string quartets.

With opus 9 Haydn went a long way towards establishing the four-movement form as the norm for his – and other composer’s – string quartets. All bar one (no.5) of the quartets now begin with a first movement in sonata form, where their predecessors had begun with a relatively simple dance; most are on the slow side, with markings such as moderato and poco adagio. All of the second movements are made up of a minuet and trio. Each quartet has a slow third movement, lyrical and handsomely ornamented. The finales are all rapid and animated, and on the short side. The formal balance of some of the quartets might, indeed, be said to suffer a little from the relatively lightweight nature of these finales. 

In these opus.9 quartets both the movements in sonata form and the minuets are more fully developed than in the earlier quartets. There is a greater seriousness now, though playfulness is not entirely absent – these quartets could hardly be the work of Haydn were that the case!  The general level of achievement is perhaps slightly uneven, but the best work here is very fine indeed, on a par with much of what Haydn was later to do in the form. 

Though the opus 9 quartets show Haydn moving towards a formal norm (with later changes yet to come, such as the movement of the minuet from second to third place in the sequence), they also demonstrate very vividly how such a norm does not, for Haydn, necessarily prevent a great variety of style and mood amongst the finished works.

No.6 is perhaps closest to the earlier divertimenti à quattro, though even here the first two movements – an energetic opening presto and a second movement with a pleasantly tender trio – are far more than merely ‘entertaining’. The last two movements, however, are disappointingly slight. At the other extreme is no.4, perhaps the most completely successful of these six quartets. This is a serious (though not solemn) work, its opening moderato a substantial and powerful piece with some striking dynamic contrasts, redolent of Haydn’s sturm und drang manner, and a minuet which speaks of emotional intensity more than of the elegance of the ballroom. The adagio cantabile is a work of real beauty and by beginning the finale with a fugue, Haydn gives to the movement the necessary weight which not all of these opus 9 finales have. This is a quartet to stand comparison with all but the very greatest of Haydn’s works in the form, and the Buchberger Quartet do it something like full justice, playing with the necessary power and sensitivity throughout this relatively demanding work.

Quartet No.1 is an altogether less vehement work, its opening movement – the main theme of which echoes one of C.P.E. Bach’s keyboard sonatas – succeeded by a particularly danceable minuet; there also a sense of the dance in the siciliano rhythms of the adagio (in sonata form); only a slightly unsatisfying finale disappoints. Just how various Haydn’s minuets can be is well demonstrated by no.2, which is graced by a minuet which Robbins Landon justly described as ‘ethereal’. No.2 also has a well developed opening moderato and a lovely adagio in which the first violin is foregrounded in an aria-like solo. The 1775 violin played by Hubert Buchberger, made in Cremona by Lorenzo Storioni, sounds particularly handsome here. Once again, the finale is rather lightweight.

The Buchberger Quartet give a fine performance of no.3, capturing the dignified, yet lively vigour and spirit of its opening allegro molto, and the wit and grace of its minuet and trio; their account of the ornate and serious largo is played with winning sensitivity. So too is the largo cantabile of no.5, where the theme and variations of the opening movement are played with unaffected grace. The closing presto carries more weight than many of its fellows, and it closes the quartet satisfyingly in this performance.

The Buchberger Quartet was established in 1974, when its members were all students at the Frankfurt Academy of Music and the Performing Arts. That they have been playing together for a good while is clear in all that they do, though they seem free of the over-relaxed near complacency that can affect some long-established quartets. Whether in the more concertante quartets (such as no.2) or in those which put more stress on instrumental interplay (such as no.3), their work is impressive. They are evidently entirely at home with Haydn’s musical language and make excellent guides through opus 9. Later sets in what is presumably designed as a complete recording of the quartets should be worth looking out for.

Glyn Pursglove


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