The Doric Quartet play Haydn

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COMPOSERS: Joseph Haydn
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Haydn
WORKS: String Quartets, Op. 76 (complete)
PERFORMER: Doric Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: Chandos CHAN 10886

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Haydn’s last full set of six string quartets, justly regarded as one of the peaks of the repertoire, includes the famous Emperor and Sunrise quartets. Much less familiar than those, and even bolder, is the last work in the Op. 76 series. It begins with a set of variations culminating in a fugue, looking forward to a form cultivated by Beethoven and Brahms, among others; and has a slow movement that meanders so freely through a plethora of keys that Haydn gives it the label of ‘Fantasia’. It’s a pity, given the high level of their playing throughout, that the Doric Quartet’s interpretations are so often marred by a self-conscious determination to bring out the music’s character through hesitations, and exaggerated changes in tempo. A particular casualty is the Sunrise Op. 76 No. 4, whose first movement alternates moments of Brucknerian spaciousness with more energetic material. The two are meant to unfold within essentially the same pulse; the Doric players linger endlessly over the broad opening subject and then rush ahead whenever the semiquavers appear, producing a stop-go account that wreaks havoc on the music’s continuity and coherence.

More successful is the Emperor, and the village dance at the mid-point of its opening movement, with the violins stomping away in octaves while the lower instruments provide a bagpipe-like drone, is splendidly done. But despite such individual felicities throughout the set, there’s too much wayward playing to make it a recommendable proposition.

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Misha Donat