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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
String Quartets
G major, Op.76 no.1, Hob.111:75 [21:19]
D major, Op. 20 no.4, Hob.111:34 [23:52]
D major, Op. 64 no.5, Hob.111:63 The Lark [18:04]
D minor, Op. 103, Hob:83 (incomplete) [10:05]
Hin ist alle meine Kraft; alt und schwach bin ich - (Gone is all my strength; weak and old am I) - A farewell message appended to Op.103 (consisting of twelve notes played on the violin) [0:26]
Endellion String Quartet
rec. Wyastone Concert Hall, Monmouth, 19-22 July 2012
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 65720-7 [73:45]

This is a very welcome release by Warner Classics of a CD of Haydn string quartets played by one of Britain’s foremost ensembles. Many will be surprised to hear that this year the Endellion are celebrating their thirty-fourth year, having been formed in 1979. Since 1992 they have been the Quartet in Residence at Cambridge University. I first encountered them about fifteen years ago when I bought their excellent recordings of Britten’s complete music for string quartet. Those discs were first issued in 1987, and since then they have recorded an extensive discography.
What we have here is not the beginning of a proposed cycle, but a selection of quartets from a period spanning thirty years of Haydn’s creative life.
The programme consists of what many would consider the best of the Op.20 quartets, no. 4 in D major. It is joined by one of the pioneering pieces in Haydn’s mature style, dating from 1772. Op. 64 no. 5 The Lark was composed nearly twenty years later in 1790. One of the so-called Tost Quartets, it figured amongst a dozen quartets written and dedicated to the Viennese violinist Johann Tost. An audience favorite, it secured its nickname from the opening theme of the first movement being taken up by the first violin resembling, because of its high range, the song of the morning lark. Op. 76 no. 1 comes from the last full set of six quartets Haydn composed in 1797. Towards the end of his life in 1803, he composed the two inner movements of the Op. 103 quartet, but due to failing health and other compositional commitments, it remained unfinished. The CD ends with a musical quote of twelve notes Haydn wrote on a visiting card to his publishers, excusing himself for the absence of the quartet’s outer movements. The text under the musical quote reads ‘Gone is all my strength; weak and old am I’ - a nice touch!
The Endellions play this music with a high degree of polish and refinement. You get the feeling that they have lived with these works for a long time. Like the Britten works I mentioned, they penetrate to the core of the music, projecting elegance and lyricism with spontaneity. This is cultivated playing at its very best. Intonation and phrasing are always immaculate. The finale of Op.20 is characterized by crisp articulation and rhythmic incisiveness, a real tour de force. The menuettos in each quartet smile and have a certain joie de vivre. Haydn’s famous wit is not overdone, but is given in good measure. The Endellion have a real affinity for this music and the music will stay fresh after repeated listenings.
The booklet notes are excellent and informative. The warm acoustic of Monmouth’s Wyastone Concert Hall gives the music clarity of detail, with perfect instrumental balance. All in all, a pleasing Haydn offering.
Stephen Greenbank

Masterwork Index: Haydn string quartets