Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
String Quartets - Vol. 3
String Quartet in B flat major, op. 76 no. 4, Sunrise (Hob.III:78) (17) [22:51]
String Quartet in C major, op. 76 no. 3, Emperor (Hob.III:77) (17) [22:05]
String Quartet in D minor, op. 76 no. 2, Fifths (Hob III:76) (17) [21:45]
Leipziger Streichquartett (Stefan Arzberger (violin I); Tilman BŁning (violin II); Ivo Bauer (viola); Matthias Moosdorf (cello))
rec. Ackerhaus der Abtei MarienmŁnster, Ehem, 4-6 November 2009, DDD

The Sunrise makes for a quiet, inward-looking and studious start to this CD. And you really appreciate the exposition repeat which allows you to get to grips with what itís about. The first violinís curvaceous ascent represents the sunrise. The first themeís mellow consideration soon gives way to earnest activity, then back to the opening mood. The second theme mirrors the first but with the melody this time in the cello. In the development (tr. 1 4:19) the vigorous material becomes more spiky but whatís more attractive, and very well accomplished here by the Leipzig String Quartet, is the release of tension as the texture thins and the music eases into the recapitulation. I compared The Lindsays recorded in 1999 (ASV CDDCA 1077). Their opening is more affectionately inflected, their activity more animated, but the movementís progression isnít revealed with the sheer refinement shown by the Leipzigers.

The slow movement is a deep contemplation around a five note motif of which you are made clearly aware in the Leipzigersí performance. Their presentation is plain but intent. The more searching, even rapt character of the second phase of the movement is satisfyingly revealed by the whole ensemble. Their understatement shows more warmth and inwardness than the more moulded but also self-conscious Lindsays.

After this the Minuet is rather disarmingly jocular. The Leipzigers get across well the teasing quality of its tempo fluctuations though to a degree which makes the disruptions unduly gawky. The Trio has a rustic flavour to maintain such a mood, with its viola and cello drone over which the violinsí melody slides. But in its second section the viola is released to join the violins and your focus is switched to the sweetness and light of the first violin in upper register. The Lindsaysí more blatantly comic bounce in the Minuet blends better with a Trio that is at first still more feisty and assertive.

The finale, attractively presented by the Leipzigers with an easygoing blitheness, continues the later, sweeter mood of the Trio. Its increasingly faster, at first more feathery, closing section is trimly accomplished by the Leipzigers but youíre very much aware of it as a virtuoso technical display. The Lindsays are more provocative: they send up the first violinís grace notes from the finaleís opening phrase and then float on the sustained notes. Their closing section begins nonchalantly and continues precisely etched.

The second quartet on this Leipzigersí CD, the Emperor, is altogether different in manner. Itís direct, exuberantly forthright and uncomplicated. The Leipzigers begin it in chipper fashion. The sforzandos and lower parts are firmly projected and thereís more emphasis on ensemble than first violin dominance, its passages of semiquaver and demisemiquaver elaboration allowed just to wheel neatly above the rest. In the development (tr. 5 3:37) the sequences are presented with silvery tone before the theme is displayed in much more rugged manner as appropriate to the drone in viola and cello. The recapitulation is then an appreciated return to civil normality. Itís a pity the second half of the movement, unlike the first, isnít repeated, especially because Haydn asks for the close, from 6:05 here, to be faster the second time, so you lose that adrenalin effect. The Lindsays (from 1998, ASV CDDCA 1076) do make the repeat and approach everything with more rigour and swagger.

The ĎEmperorí (Austrian national anthem) theme of the slow movement (tr. 6) is stated calmly by the Leipzigers and gradually takes on more of the character of a formal dance. Variation 1 (1:04) offers a nicely rounded statement by the second violin and neat first violin filigree work above. Variation 2 (2:03) is treated as a lullaby, with the theme now in the cello and the first violinís counter-play tender and sympathetic. In Variation 3 (3:00) the tune comes in the viola with denser involvement of the other parts but is still flexibly and companionably presented here. In Variation 4 (4:14) the tune is back in the first violin and more reflective in silky high register, sealing the whole presentation as a grateful homage. I prefer this to the more emotive Lindsays who for me become rather unctuous.

The Leipzigersí Minuet is courtly, relaxed and attractive, but I feel the more rhythmic second part of both sections could skip more, as the Lindsays show. However, the Trio responds better to the Leipzigersí understatement. Itís grave until transformed, even if only for a spell, from A minor to A major, like seeing the same person in different circumstances. In the Leipzigersí finale you feel the rhetoric of the crotchet chords more than the shimmer of the quaver triplets, but these do later become more prominent. In the development (tr. 8 2:46) they cut across the melodic progress with more effect and things become more impetuous. The Leipzigersí performance is finely proportioned but the Lindsays are more exciting.

The Fifths is a great study in subversion. Its first movement begins rigorously enough but the consolatory brightness of its second theme (tr. 9 0:23) is what you prefer to remember. The development (3:24) sees a transformation and mellowing of the initial material at the same time as its opening four-note motif (the falling fifths in the first violin) becomes more significant as a unifying and steadying force. The Leipzigers are more refined and intellectual than the Lindsaysí more personal and passionate approach (ASV CDDCA 1076 recorded in 1999) which offers a sweeter yet somewhat less substantial second theme. The winsome slow movement spotlights a first violin melody and here the Leipzigersí Stefan Arzberger manages to be both folksy and gracefully sophisticated where Peter Cropper for the Lindsays is more modest and unassuming. Arzberger is the more classical. The Minuet returns to D minor rigour but of a very odd kind as the first and second violins are stalked by the viola and cello three beats behind. As both are in their lower register the effect is rather that of a trailing double-bass. This is clearer and more disturbing in the Leipzigersí account though it has less gusto than the Lindsays. The D major Trio places a Vivaldian succession of crotchet chords as a backcloth for a sweet and toying first violin solo. The Leipzigers bring out the toying aspect more whereas the Lindsays are more exciting in dynamic shading. In the D minor finale the subversive brightness is confined at first to the first violinís leap of a fifth at the end of the first phrase but you know the theme is going to end up, satisfyingly and after a little sleight of hand in the development, in the major. All this is stylishly effected by the Leipzigers, again more classically than the Lindsaysí more cheeky first violin leap. They also sport a feistier development and more delicate and sweet major version of the theme. A good way to end a CD of clean, thoughtful, satisfyingly classical accounts. The playing is refined and precise; the recording has fine immediacy and presence.

Michael Greenhalgh

Clean, thoughtful, satisfyingly classical accounts.