Notes and Editorial Reviews
op. 77/1, 2; op. 42
Alea Ens (period instruments)
STRADIVARIUS STR 33849 (64:35)
Haydn’s string quartets, more than 50 in number, were published typically in sets of six, with the exception of four sets of three each, one set of two (intended to be a set of six, but interrupted, after two movements of a third quartet, by Haydn’s failing health), and one singleton. Here we have the singleton and the set of two. The op. 42 (in D Minor) is a relatively
neglected string quartet for no good reason that I have ever found. The last two completed quartets comprise the op. 77, the first in G Major (with an Adagio second movement and a Menuetto third-movement trio in E?, remote to G) and the second in F Major (with a Menuetto second-movement trio in D? and a third-movement Andante in D). Haydn’s use, in these quartets, of surprise keys—in jarring juxtaposition between the third and fourth movements of op. 77/2—might have differing effects on the listener between the period-instrument sound (presumably what Haydn heard) and the modern-instrument sound, but I found no such differences. Then again, I’m no(t) Haydn. Both of these quartets have one thing in common: They are among the marvels of the string quartet literature. And the lone D-Minor quartet, if not a marvel, is marvelous listening.
I’m not sold on the period-instrument sound in these quartets, although the playing and the interpretive choices of these musicians are impeccable. The raw sound of gut strings with no vibrato is especially grating for sustained notes, whereas the quick passage from note to note provided by faster tempos is less unattractive, and even tolerable. Once past the aural challenge of the period-instrument sound, these performances are excellent in all respects. From intonation and discernibleness of part-writing to phrasing and dynamics, this is great Haydn playing.
The AleaEnsemble (it prefers no space between “Alea” and “Ensemble”) was formed in 2002 to play the great chamber repertoire with period instruments. The members—Andrea Rognoni and Fiorenza de Donatis (violins), Stefano Marcocchi (viola), and Marco Frezzato (cello)—are also the principal players in two prominent Italian early-music ensembles: Europa Galante and Accademia Bizantina.
If you are not completely averse to period-instrument performances, this is a good Haydn quartet disc to have.
FANFARE: Burton Rothleder
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