Haydn – String Quartets Op.50, Nos 2, 4 & 5

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Haydn
LABELS: MDG
WORKS: String Quartets: Op. 50, Nos 1, 4 & 5
PERFORMER: Leipzig Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: MDG 307 1585-2

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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.

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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