Haydn: String Quartets Op. 20

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LABELS: Astrée
WORKS: String Quartets Op. 20
PERFORMER: Quatuor Mosaïques
Haydn’s six Op. 20 quartets of 1772 (known as the Sun Quartets) represent the summation of his early efforts in a genre that he created virtually single-handed. Though rather overshadowed by the magnificence of his later quartets, the Op. 20 set offers much to enjoy and cherish. Many of Haydn’s mature attributes – humour, intellectual panache, deft lyricism – are already evident and there is great diversity between the quartets, from No. 1’s tranquil musings to the wit of No. 6.


Perhaps the outstanding works are No. 2, with its riveting, declamatory Capriccio; No. 4, notable for its structural finesse and frolicsome closing Presto; and No. 5, a work of passionate intensity that finds solace in its exquisitely tender Adagio, through which the first violin’s lines dance like a flame.


Astrée released one disc from this set in 1990. They’ve now released the second and have issued both in the boxed set reviewed here. The Quatuor Mosaïques – a French period-instrument ensemble whose cellist, Christophe Coin, will be known to many through his work with the Academy of Ancient Music – play these pieces with warmth and authority. A succinct essay on Haydn’s early quartets by HC Robbins Landon completes this exemplary issue. Graham Lock