String Quartets, Op. 74 Nos 1-3; Folk Music from Scotland
Linn Records CKD 641 81:52 mins
Haydn quartets interspersed with Scottish folk song arrangements – the idea sounds wildly incongruous, and yet how well it works in these fine performances. The first of Haydn’s Op. 74 quartets ends with a folk-like tune which has the violins stomping away in octaves above a bagpipe-like drone from the two lower instruments, so Coilsfield House – Drunk at Night, Dry in the Morning seems to follow on quite naturally, especially given the Maxwell Quartet’s own idiomatic transcription. Haydn would surely have approved – after all, around the time he composed these quartets he began making Scottish folk song arrangements for the Edinburgh-based enthusiast and philanthropist George Thomson.
The three Op. 74 quartets, written for Haydn’s triumphant second visit to London in 1794-5, are wonderfully inventive and original, and the Maxwell Quartet plays them with infectious enthusiasm throughout. The hectic pace of the finale in Op. 74 No. 1, the riot of trills in the opening movement of the second quartet, the ‘bouncing’ rhythms of the G minor ‘Rider’ Quartet’s finale – all these are dispatched with admirable energy and rhythmic vitality. But the Maxwell players are alive to the music’s tender qualities, too: the breathtaking moment in the minuet movement of the first quartet when the trio comes floating in as if from a different world altogether; the Rossinian lightness and transparency of the same quartet’s second movement; or the profound calm of the ‘Rider’ Quartet’s slow movement, and the huskier sound of its dark middle section in the minor. Altogether irresistible.