WORKS: String Quartets: Op. 50, Nos 1, 4 & 5
PERFORMER: Leipzig Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: MDG 307 1585-2
By now a superbly integrated ensemble of some two decades standing, the Leipzig String Quartet seems incapable of making an ugly sound – which is both its glory and, perhaps, its limitation. Put on the spacious opening movement of the Quartet in B flat major, Op. 50 No. 1, and one is immediately transfixed by the elegance and poise of the phrasing, the exactitude of the intonation, the silvery sheen of the sound – enhanced by MDG’s airy, yet perfectly focused recording.
Yet, in the longer run, is it all a bit too beautiful? Does one begin to hanker for a little more tension and gutsiness in the playing, as in the Lindsay Quartet’s deeply insightful recordings – and especially in the strange Quartet in F sharp minor, Op. 50, No. 4? Why Haydn chose for once to make life so difficult for his players by choosing this remote and awkward key is a mystery. But the Leipzigers seem so intent on showing even this can be made to sound well, that some of the work’s unease is smoothed over.
The most rounded performance here is of the Quartet in F major, Op. 50, No. 5, with a crisply articulated opening movement that really lifts off, a surpassing sweetness in its rapt Adagio, and a touch of earthiness at last in the galloping finale. Bayan Northcott