String Quartets, Op. 33
Doric String Quartet
Chandos CHAN 20129 128:07 mins (2 discs)
How do you prefer your Haydn? Played or ‘interpreted’? Dating from 1771, Haydn’s period of ‘storm and stress’, the String Quartet Op. 33, No. 1 opens with a little first violin double-turn that twists from an apparent major into the minor mode, followed by a dissonantly nagging repeated turn from the cello leading to a pair of questioning chords and a sudden pause. Played ‘straight’ the passage is already redolent of restlessness, ambiguity. However, the Doric String Quartet choose to inflect the opening violin figure with expressive rubato and to accelerate the pulse of the ensuing cello turns, as if, at all costs, to wring the maximum expressivity and drama out of the music.
The Doric is one of the most accomplished quartets in circulation and doubtless every agogic pause and tempo fluctuation, every extreme of dynamics and contrast of tone colour with which it interprets these works has been carefully considered. But when Haydn said that these quartets were composed ‘in a new and special manner’, he was surely warning not only that they contain startling contrasts of severity and humour, but that they are written with a new tightness and economy compared with his previous quartets. Those who want their Haydn vividly enhanced in expression, unexpectedness and recorded sound will enjoy this set. Others may continue to feel that the often cryptic and quizzical spirit of these pieces is better conveyed by a more strict and deadpan manner of performance.