Haydn: String Quartets, Op. 20/2, 5 & 6

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COMPOSERS: Haydn
LABELS: ASV
WORKS: String Quartets, Op. 20/2, 5 & 6
PERFORMER: Lindsay Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: CD DCA 1057
If Haydn’s early string quartets were apprentice works, his Op. 20 set of 1772 displays a remarkable musical maturity. Haydn’s technical mastery of the still-new genre is evident in his adroit handling of textures, and the six quartets also reveal the dramatic nous of a composer well-versed in opera. Perhaps even more impressive is the music’s rich emotional palette, its variety and power recalling the passions of Haydn’s contemporaneous Sturm und Drang symphonies. In 1929 Donald Tovey noted of Op. 20 (in relation to Haydn’s subsequent quartets): ‘further progress is not progress in any historical sense but simply the difference between one masterpiece and the next’. That comment has been much quoted but I think it was only in 1992, with the release of Mosaïques Quartet’s magnificent recording that we were finally able to hear its truth.

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The Lindsays’ second disc of quartets from the opus – Vol. 1 was issued last year – features the three quartets that end with fugues, that of No. 6 being especially high spirited. Though the Lindsays play with their customary fluency and élan, the Mosaïques’s Op. 20 stands as one of the decade’s finest chamber performances. It’s reading of No. 2’s Adagio, a gripping opera scena for strings, offers a masterclass in the use of the dramatic pause and subtle control of dynamics. Throughout, the Mosaïques plays with a rapt intensity that at times makes even the Lindsays sound brusque and hurried. A shame, too, that ASV’s close recording picks up some intrusive breathing. Graham Lock