Haydn: String Quartet in C, Op. 33/3; String Quartet in G, Op. 33/5; String Quartet in D, Op. 33/6

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COMPOSERS: Haydn
LABELS: ASV
WORKS: String Quartet in C, Op. 33/3; String Quartet in G, Op. 33/5; String Quartet in D, Op. 33/6
PERFORMER: Lindsay String Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: CD DCA 938 DDD
Haydn’s Op. 33, published in 1782, was an immediate hit throughout Europe and confirmed the string quartet’s potential as a flexible, expressive form. Haydn’s famous declaration that these six quartets were ‘written in a new and special way’ may have been sales talk, but he was right to emphasise the differences from his previous set, Op. 20, composed ten years earlier. Critics have noted the technical changes in Op. 33 – the opening movements’ greater thematic unity; the minuets relabelled as scherzos; sprightly rondos replacing Op. 20’s complex fugal finales. Yet the most evident shift is one of feeling: Op. 20’s passionate intensity has given way to genial high spirits and an inventive wit that make Op. 33 one of the great comic masterworks of Western chamber music.

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The Lindsays and the Mosaïques, both acclaimed interpreters of Haydn, bring their particular insights to the music. The Lindsays, opting at times for more extreme tempos, find unexpected drama and hidden depth; the Mosaïques, always alert to Haydn’s subtleties, play with a relaxed mastery that underlines the music’s joie de vivre. Both performances are outstanding, preferences a matter for personal taste.

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My feeling is that the Mosaïques are better attuned to Quartet No. 3’s graceful flow and, in Quartet No. 5, to the Scherzo’s comic intricacies and the Allegretto’s hint of ruefulness. The Lindsays’ No. 5 is marked by a powerful Vivace and they have the edge in No. 2 (on their first Op. 33 disc, released earlier this year), thanks chiefly to their grippingly slow Largo e sostenuto. They surely gain too by having their complete version of Op. 33 available first. The Mosaïques, notoriously leisurely in such matters, have still to record the second disc of their set.