COMPOSERS: Joseph Haydn
ALBUM TITLE: Haydn
WORKS: String Quartets, Op. 50 Nos 1-6
PERFORMER: The London Haydn Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: Hyperion CDA 68122
Published in 1787 and dedicated to the cello-playing King of Prussia, the six Op. 50 Quartets comprise some of Haydn’s most obsessive achievements in the art of making much from little – of drawing the most varied structures, inventions, textures and feelings from the most limited thematic material. The serenely animated opening Allegro of Op. 50 No. 1 unfolds from little more than a throbbing bass and a tiny cliché turn, while the principle idea of the witty finale of No. 6 is no more than a single note reiterated on alternate strings – a sound that has gained the work the nickname of the ‘Frog Quartet’.
Haydn constrained himself still further in No. 4 by opting for F sharp minor, an obscure key, exceptionally perilous to string intonation, that makes for an uneasy mood of suppressed emotions. Not, of course, that Catherine Manson and her three colleagues of the London String Quartet have any problems with the tuning here, though they cannot quite avoid a slight roughness of timbre in this difficult key, which was probably Haydn’s intention in choosing it.
For the rest, gut strings and paucity of vibrato notwithstanding, they play with all the radiant resonance of timbre of their previous releases in this on-going Haydn series. Maybe the opening movement of No. 2 is a little too beautiful to articulate all its cut and thrust; maybe the outer movements of No. 3 are a bit too hasty and throwaway. But there is never a dull moment, and the recording is of answering immediacy and bloom.