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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
String Quartets - Volume 10
Quartet op. 64/1 (Hob. III:65) C Major [26:40]
Quartet op. 64/2 (Hob III:68) B minor [19:27]
Quartet op. 64/6 (Hob. III:64) E flat Major [20:57]
Leipziger Streichquartett
rec. 2018, Konzerthaus der Abtei Marienmünster, Germany
MDG 307 2093-2 [67:06]

It has been quite a few years since the Leipziger Streichquartett began their survey of Joseph Haydn’s string quartets, to be exact, it is nine years since the first volume appeared, and six since Volume 5 (MDG 307 1723-2), which contains the other three Op. 64 Quartets. However, the wait has been worth it, as this disc marks a fine addition to the growing cycle.

The opus 64 set of string quartets were composed in 1790, and along with Opus 54 and 55 quartets are known as the Tost quartets, after the slightly shady figure, Johann Tost, the Hungarian violinist, former leader of the second violins at Esterházy and merchant who aided Haydn in finding a publisher for the works. However, unlike the earlier quartets, the opus 64 bares the dedication to Tost in gratitude for his efforts, although this dedication was later removed from some printed editions at the composer’s request. They were actually printed in London after the impresario, Johann Peter Salomon, had invited Haydn to England. Haydn repaid Solomon’s faith by producing a set of six quartets which were designed to be of appeal to both amateurs and connoisseurs alike and that took the quartet to new heights, with a harmonic language that sees all the six quartets interrelated.

While the fifth quartet of the set, known as ‘The Lark’ is the best known (featured on Vol. 5), there is still some wonderful writing here, with some surprising contrasts between major and minor keys as well as between triplets and duplets. Haydn also seems to have sought to recapture the playfulness and humour of the Op. 33 String Quartets. The disc opens with perhaps the least known of the series, the C Major Quartet No. 1, which opens with its charming and leisurely Allegro moderato exploiting the cello’s low C string. In comparison, the second quartet in this cycle uses a key, B minor, that is rarely employed by Haydn, which asserts the link between the Op. 64 and the Op. 33. This can be seen in the way that the Op. 33 No. 1, written in the same key, suggests D Major in its opening, something that Haydn repeats here with his writing for the first violin in the opening bars. Here the composer also shows his preference for the major keys, as the four movements progress the B minor key is gradually replaced by that of B Major. The final quartet in the set, in E flat Major, opens with a mellow and lyrical inward-looking Allegro, while in the Minuet we get a glimpse of Haydn’s humour and inventive nature in the way that the second trio section, rather than being the usual recapitulation of the first trio section, is distinct from the original.

The Leipziger Streichquartett’s performance is crisp, agile and nuanced and free from the big boned Romantic view of the music; perhaps this is due to their historically informed performance practice, which included standing throughout their performance, or their use period style bows and instruments; whatever, the result is excellent. Despite the length of time between recordings, their performance completes the set in a style and sound that is difficult to distinguish from the first volume of the Op. 64. While a six-year gap is hardly the ideal way to record a set of six quartets, the process here is seamless, resulting in a recording that will stand comparison with the best. The recorded sound is also excellent, as are the detailed booklet note. My only worry is that at nine years to produce the first ten discs in this series, just how long will it take to produces a complete cycle?

Stuart Sillitoe

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