Haydn: String Quartets Op. 20

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COMPOSERS: Haydn
LABELS: Astrée
WORKS: String Quartets Op. 20
PERFORMER: Quatuor Mosaïques
CATALOGUE NO: E 8784 DDD
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.

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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.

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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