haydn quartets mdg

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
String Quartets Volume 16
Quartet in B-flat major, op. 71, no. 1 (Hob. III: 69)
Quartet in D major, op. 71, no. 2 (Hob. III: 70)
Quartet in E-flat major op. 71 no. 3 (Hob. III: 71)
Leipziger Streichquartett
rec. 2022, Konzerthaus Abtei Marienmünster, Germany
MDG 307 2275-2 [61]

Franz Joseph Haydn’s String Quartets appeal to connoisseurs and casual listeners because they brim with attractive melodies and refined compositional technique. Although Haydn probably did not know Alexander Pope’s poems, he seems to have acted upon the advice given in An Essay on Criticism (1711): ‘First follow NATURE, and your judgment frame / By her just standard, which is still the same’ (lines 68-69). Pope understood that certain compositions are perennial because they capture ideas and feelings that are not restricted to a particular time or location. Haydn’s refulgent quartets remain fresh with repeated listening because he followed nature (i.e., technical mastery combined with interesting thematic ideas).

The three string quartets included here comprise the first half of op. 71 and were likely written between 1792 and 1793. Published in Vienna and London in 1795/96, these quartets were intended for performance in concerts arranged by Johann Peter Salomon during Haydn’s second visit to the English capital (1794-1795). It is unknown whether they were actually played during this time.

One attraction to the present release is that the Leipziger Streichquartett’s members play historic instruments: first violin by Domenico Montagnana (1746), second violin by Vincenzo Panormo (ca. 1795), viola by Giuseppe Scarampella (ca. 1860), and a cello by Carlo Tononi (1730) that was owned by Pablo Casals. These musicians, all former members of the Gewandhausorchester, infuse an astonishing degree of vitality into these works. Their approach balances meticulous observation of Haydn’s instructions concerning phrasing, tempo, dynamics, and repeats with rhythmic verve and lightness that makes these performances enrapturing. This disc commands attention and rewards multiple hearings, qualities for which the composer and the musicians deserve credit.

MDG meets the highest presentation standards: the CD is stored in a jewel case with attractive artwork, well-written liner notes in three languages, and illustrations related to the cultural milieu in which these works were written. The recorded acoustic is well nigh ideal for chamber music: crisp, clear, detailed, and yet with a ‘warm’ ambience captured from the venue, which represents how this music sounds in concert. In other words, the recording itself ‘follows nature’ by giving the impression of real performances, thankfully without distractions from an audience that can mar playbacks of concerts.

This release, volume 16, in a series of Haydn’s complete String Quartets seems to be among the finest in the catalogue. My reference has been the Kodály Quartet on Naxos, which contains not only all of Haydn’s ‘authenticated’ quartets, but the spurious Op. 3 and sundry arrangements for string quartet of works for other forces. The Leipziger Streichquartett, however, have captivated my interest to experience these quartets from this ensemble’s perspective. I look forward to hearing and, hopefully, reviewing all of the volumes in this series.

Daniel Floyd

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