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
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
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
Masterwork Index: Haydn