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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
String Quartets, Op. 50, Hob. III/44/49 ‘Prussian Quartets’ (1787):
No. 1 in B flat major, Op. 50, Hob. III/44 [18.42]
No. 2 in C major, Op. 50, Hob. III/45 [21.04]
No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 50, Hob. III/46 [19.11]
No. 4 in F sharp major, Op. 50, Hob. III/47 [18.09]
No. 5 in F major, ‘The Dream’ Op. 50, Hob. III/48 [15.25]
No. 6 in D major, ‘The Frog’ Op. 50, Hob. III/49 [18.20]
Quatuor Za´de (Charlotte Juillard (1st violin); Leslie Boulin Raulet (2nd violin); Sarah Chenaf (viola); Juliette Salmona (cello))
rec. February, July, September 2015, Arsenal, Metz, France
NOMADMUSIC NMM027 [59.05 + 52.01]

Hearing Haydn’s string quartets is one of the finest experiences in music; especially when they are played in recital. It can also be uplifting to attend recitals by new generation string quartets. Their youthful enthusiasm and freshness of performance often communicate a special sense of discovery. Certainly those qualities apply here with this new release by Quatuor Za´de a relatively young ensemble founded in 2010 recording works by Haydn in its fifth year as a quartet.

Za´de released its first recording in 2014 on the NoMadMusic label. They focused on a 20th century programme of quartets from Janßček and Martinů. For the present release Za´de has elected to record Haydn’s opus 50 set. Written in 1787 Haydn dedicated the set to the new King Frederick William II of Prussia hence the commonly used title: the ‘Prussian Quartets’. Mindful that his royal dedicatee was an amateur cellist it is no surprise that Haydn ensured prominent and interesting cello parts in the set. Evidently Haydn led his publishers in London and Vienna to think that each was the first to publish the set.

Haydn’s opus 50 is rather less known out of his substantial output of around 80 string quartets. It’s no surprise that from the group of six it’s the named quartets The Dream and The Frog that receive the most performances. Despite the relative neglect there is a marked purity to these beautifully written scores with the four instruments achieving a noticeable equality.

Here Za´de convincingly conveys Haydn’s range of expression from rustic earthiness to convivial wit to lyrical tenderness. Broadly speaking the opening Allegros are played by Za´de in a briskly invigorating, rather determined manner - forceful when need. Occasionally showing a slight tentativeness especially in the B flat major work the affectionate Adagios have a sunny disposition, warm and tranquil with a sense of relaxation after a good lunch. Haydn’s dancing Menuettos feel good-humoured and frequently have the air of a strutting peacock. In the Finales Za´de generates a jaunty rather restless quality with no shortage of determination and I have to mention the F sharp minor score for its masterly Fugue. Throughout the set a little more tonal variation from the players would have been the icing on the cake. The engineers provide vividly clear sound and although as close as they dare the balance is excellent.

Over the years the Lindsay String Quartet recorded a considerable amount of Haydn for ASV establishing a special affinity for Haydn's works. Demonstrating such high integrity and maintaining an impressive grip the Lindsays' account remains my first choice in the opus 50 ‘Prussian’ String Quartets.

Nevertheless this is a quite outstanding Haydn release from Quatuor Za´de and one I will surely play often. I shall certainly seek out its Czech album and one wonders to whose music Za´de will turn to next.

Michael Cookson