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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
String Quartets - Volume 11
Quartet in E flat, Op.17 No.3 [19:39]
Quartet in G, Op.17 No.5 [21:47]
Quartet in E, Op.17 No.1 [24:25]
Leipzig String Quartet
rec. 2019, Konzerthaus der Abtei Marienmünster, Germany
MDG 3072141-2 [65:51]

Well, this is a pleasant surprise. I’m a great lover of Haydn’s mature string quartets but perceived wisdom is that Op. 17’s six are not in the same class as later works. In 1986 the dogmatic, Haydn scholar Hans Keller dismissed them from “The Great Quartets” but these performances show that there are qualities that deserve to be recognised. They could hardly have stronger advocates than the Leipzig Quartet who seem to be well inside Haydn’s world. This is Volume 11, after all, and the recording is ideal for these works.

Haydn’s Op.17 quartets were published in 1771, and therefore only a year before his generally accepted “great” Op. 20 “Sun” quartets. They are neglected, even though they were well thought of during Haydn’s lifetime. However, as James MacKay pointed out in 2014 “many of the technical and formal innovations that have been noted in the ‘Sun’ Quartets were also present in the Op. 17 set; in particular, Haydn’s innovative treatment of sonata form”. The three quartets here certainly display, albeit in less complex form, many of the unique attributes of Haydn’s later quartets.

This disc starts with Op.17 No.3 and it is, as my colleague Marc Rochester points out, really charming. The first movement is a set of variations and these are usually worth hearing with Haydn. They are dominated by the first violin but still enjoyable. Mr Rochester’s point concerning the operatic influences is especially true in this movement. I found the Adagio of interest and the finale Allegro molto bounds along cheerfully. Op. 17 No.5 begins with a first movement sporting an appealing melody. It develops well but then overstays the ideas. Again, the Adagio has charm and the Presto goes well. The third work here is Op.17 No.1 and it too is very pleasant. The second movement Menuetto: Allegretto foreshadows similar episodes in the later “great” quartets. This time the Adagio is the third movement and has an endearingly rhapsodic quality. The Presto is fairly typical of early Haydn but brings the quartet and the CD to a satisfactory conclusion.

I began this review by stating that this was a pleasant surprise. I’m very pleased to have heard these works with such strong advocates as the Leipzig Quartet, excellently recorded. For sure the revelations or intricacies of the later works are absent but totally to dismiss them seems unfair and unnecessary. It would certainly be good to hear these players in Haydn’s mature pieces.
David R Dunsmore

Previous review: Marc Rochester

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