Haydn: Six String Quartets, Op 50 (Prussian)

Reviewed on Fri 29 Apr, 2016

These performances are historically informed, using period instruments as well as the 1787 Artaria edition scores with full outer-movement repeats. The results are life-affirming and infectious, realised with a delightful lightness of touch.

Haydn’s six ‘Prussian’ string quartets have not always received the attention accorded the composer’s other quartets. Listening to The London Haydn Quartet you’ll wonder why, as the four accomplished players display an instinctual and obvious love for the music. These performances are historically informed, using period instruments as well as the 1787 Artaria edition scores with full outer-movement repeats. The results are life-affirming and infectious, realised with a delightful lightness of touch. Instances abound of invention (for example, Quartet No 1’s Allegro or No 3’s Presto), wit (No 2’s Vivace assai), tension (No 4’s Spiritoso), serenity (No 5’s Poco adagio) and daring harmony (No 6’s Allegro con spirito). The excellent acoustic and sound quality allows each instrument to blend beautifully with the others. Of modern-instrument alternatives, the Kodály Quartet (Naxos) are heavier toned, the Quatuor Zaïde (NoMad Music) play insistently rather than leaving details inferred, while The Lindsays (ASV) occupy a happy middle ground. But it is to The London Haydn Quartet that I shall return. On this evidence, the four other 2-CD volumes in their sequentially released Hyperion cycle merit urgent investigation too – and the remaining ones are keenly anticipated! Richard Wigmore’s booklet-notes provide an informative read.
–Evan Dickerson