Haydn : String Quartets
These four magnificent works have evidently been picked to offer an overview of Haydn’s development as a string quartet composer, from his first mature set of six, Op. 20, composed in 1772 to his final unfinished quartet in D minor of 1803. Yet, instead of presenting them in chronological order, the disc opens with the genial G major Op 76 No. 1, following with the innovatory Op. 20 No. 1 and the genial ‘Lark’ Op. 64 No. 5 – both in D major, which makes for a longish stretch in the same tonality. The recorded sound, however, has the fullness and realism of a live performance.
The Endellion String Quartet respond to these scores with an equally full-toned generosity, though they fine down their vibratos to a remote purity for the wonderful Adagio affettuoso D minor variations in Op. 20. No. 1. Yet, in the gypsy-style finale of the same work they tend to vigorously override the extreme dynamic contrasts that are marked in older editions of the score. If they are using a newer edition, the booklet does not say. However there is no lack of contrast between the final minuet of Op. 103, which they bring to a defiantly tragic conclusion, and leader Andrew Watkinson’s hesitant articulation of the bleak little tune Haydn appended to the incomplete publication with the words: ‘Gone is all my strength; old and weak am I’.