WORKS: String Quartets, Op. 17/3, 5 & 6
PERFORMER: Kodály Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 8.550854
Joseph Haydn nurtured the string quartet genre throughout his career. His contemporaries could scarcely have predicted that the modest Classical Divertimento would evolve into this purest of all instrumental forms under his guiding influence. The precise number of Haydn’s quartets is not known, but 83 have been handed down to us today. Many of these, however, are still neglected. Certainly the great Prussian quartets, Op. 50, the Op. 33 set, and the masterful Opp. 74, 76 & 77 works are firmly established in the repertory, but you’ll scan the catalogues in vain for comparative versions of others, such as Haydn’s Op. 17 group of 1771, three of which are heard here.
This excellent disc completes the Kodály Quartet’s landmark Haydn Odyssey for Naxos, arguably the budget label’s finest contribution to current discography. The Kodálys turn in rock-solid performances of exceptional brilliance, unforced eloquence and pleasing stylistic empathy. They revel in Haydn’s irrepressible inventiveness; the Andante grazioso variations opening Op. 17/3 make the point clearly enough, and finales over-brim with the kind of élan that bespeaks top-flight Haydn playing. Slow-movements, too, though never over-indulgent, reveal Haydn’s yearning, romantic soul to full advantage, showing just how much the periodist brigade often miss in this music. Breathtaking performances, high-quality recorded sound, and a fitting climax to one of the most significant Haydn cycles ever undertaken. It has become my new benchmark recording. Collectors owning the Tátrai Quartet’s Hungaroton accounts of Op. 17, or those out to replace their dated Vienna Konzerthaus Quartet reissues (Preiser) will find the Kodálys warrant this commendation. Michael Jameson