Haydn: String Quartets, Op. 50/1-3

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COMPOSERS: Haydn
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: String Quartets, Op. 50/1-3
PERFORMER: Salomon Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 66821 DDD
The magnificent performances of Op. 20 by the Quatuor Mosaïques, released last year by Astrée, set new standards for the playing of Haydn string quartets that no group has yet matched. The Hagen Quartet are particularly unfortunate to have recorded Op. 20 so soon after the Mosaïques, because in direct comparisons – of phrasing, dynamics, tempi, etc – I find the latter’s choices far more cogent, their palette that much broader. Even on their own terms, the Hagen fail to convince. Their playing seems almost glib at times, their readings lacking both inner coherence and a real sense of beauty.

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No such problems beset the Salomon Quartet, whose playing on the Op. 50 discs is characteristically engaging. These six quartets catch Haydn in thoughtful transition from the outgoing breeziness of the earlier Op. 33 to the mellow generosity of spirit he displays in his later works. His writing here is simpler – lean textures, monothematic movements – and richer too, especially harmonically. The Salomons, though a touch brusque in slow movements, are persuasive throughout, and give an especially fine account of the powerful D major quartet that closes the set.

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The Lindsays offer strong, eloquent versions of the three Op. 55 quartets. Their playing is full of vigour yet alive to the nuances and felicities of a composer near the height of his powers – perhaps already there in the splendidly volatile F minor Quartet. The Kodály Quartet on Naxos provide an assured rival performance at bargain price, but the Lindsays’ attractive blend of exuberance and poise gives them the edge. Graham Lock