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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
String Quartets Op. 71
No. 1 in B flat major [25:40]
No. 2 in D major [22:29]
No. 3 in E flat major [28:59]
String Quartets Op. 74
No. 1 in C major [26:28]
No. 2 in F major [28:08]
No. 3 in G minor The Rider [24:04]
The London Haydn Quartet
rec. 2018, Potton Hall, Dunwich, UK
HYPERION CDA68230 [77:10+78:42]

This release is the eighth in The London Haydn Quartet’s ongoing cycle of Haydn’s complete string quartets for Hyperion. Let us hope that it is not too long till the next instalment. This two-disc set presents the composer’s six so-called Apponyi quartets of 1793. They were named after Haydn’s friend, and relative of the Esterházy family, Count Anton Georg Apponyi, who paid Haydn for the privilege of having control over the works before their publication in 1795. Rosemary Hughes in her 1966 monograph describes these quartets as being “between two epochs”: that of the works up to and including the Op. 64 quartets, and that of his late masterpieces Op. 76. She says that the possible influence may have been the larger orchestral sound available in London compared to what Haydn was used to. It is more likely, however, that on his first visit to England he experienced his quartets – which he had thought of as intimate works for private performance – played for a large concert audience for the very first time. That may have led him to seek a greater impact with these quartets; they had been composed with performance in London in mind. At least two of these new quartets were performed in the 1794 season of Haydn concerts in London under the auspices of Johann Peter Salomon. Either way, these quartets are bigger and bolder in their use of harmonics than what Haydn had composed before.

Also, unlike earlier quartets, here Haydn employs a short and often quiet introduction as if to grab the attention of the notoriously boisterous London audience. This leads into the main opening thematic material, something which is brought out well on the London Haydn Quartet’s period instruments. This is clearly seen in the D Major Quartet op. 71 No. 2, which is perhaps the most orchestrally minded of the first set of three quartets. That is especially noted in how the opening Adagio section gives way to the octave leaps and galloping semiquavers of the Allegro section: a real contrast. It is in the Op. 74 set that we encounter the only nicknamed quartet of the six, the G minor Quartet No. 3, known as The Rider for its galloping rhythm of the final movement. By contrast to the others, there is no slow introduction in this quartet. It opens with an Allegro non troppo movement which builds in intensity.

The close recording brings out the period sensibilities of the London Haydn Quartet. There is the feel of a live performance at times, and the almost visceral sound of period bows on gut strings is a welcome alternative to many a modern performance. Some might find that the performances are a little slow at times, especially in the minuets. For example, the one in the C Major Quartet Op. 74 No. 1 is close on two minutes slower than other performances I am familiar with. However, these are thoughtful and well-articulated performances. The chosen tempi help draw out the contrasts in the music and give the performance, and the works as a whole, greater depth and expression. I only have one other release in this series, the String Quartets Op. 64 (CDA68221); I will invest in the others.

I have already said that the recording is a little close, but this does not detract from the performance. Rather, it helps to bring out the warmth and sonorities of the string sound, wonderfully captured by the Hyperion engineers. Add to this the excellent booklet notes by Richard Wigmore that set the music in context and discuss each work individually, and you have a most welcome and valuable release. “Roll on volume nine” is all I can say.

Stuart Sillitoe

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