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Haydn: String Quartets Opp. 20, 64, 76 & 103 / Endellion String Quartet

Haydn / Endellion String Quartet
Release Date: 01/29/2013 
Label:  Warner Classics   Catalog #: 2564657207   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Franz Joseph Haydn
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Endellion String Quartet
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

HAYDN String Quartets: in G, Op. 76/1; in D, Op. 20/4; in D, Op. 64/5, “The Lark”; in d, Op. 103. Hin ist alle meine Kraft; alt und schwach bin ich Endellion Qrt WARNER 2564 65720 (73:46)

An eon-and-a-half ago—back in 1988 and 1990—I acquired two Virgin Classics CDs of Haydn Read more string quartets performed by Britain’s Endellion String Quartet. One of the discs (790719) contained the set of three op. 54 quartets, which, together with the set of three op. 55 quartets, and the six op. 64 quartets, make up the 12 so-called “Tost” Quartets; while the second disc (791097) contained the set of three op. 74 quartets, which, together with the set of three op. 71 quartets, make up the six so-called “Apponyi” Quartets. Then, the Endellion Quartet seemingly disappeared behind the far side of the moon; all went silent and dark, until 2009, when the ensemble’s 10-disc set of the complete Beethoven quartets emerged from the blackout. By that time, Virgin Classics was history and the issuing label was Warner Classics.

Checking the Endellion’s website, I see that the group actually recorded more extensively than I’d thought throughout most of the 1990s and into the early 2000s, but whatever the reason, a number of the ensemble’s albums never reached these shores. I suspect, though I could be wrong, that a marketing decision to promote the Lindsay Quartet over other British string quartet ensembles, in conjunction with the financial woes at Virgin Classics, limited production and distribution of the Endellion’s recordings. But the Endellion Quartet wasn’t the only British ensemble cast into the shadows by the Lindsay Quartet; the Fitzwilliam Quartet also garnered little studio time. The sad thing is that the Brits chose the lame horse to back in the race, because next to the Endellion and Fitzwilliam Quartets, the Lindsay was a hobbled quadruped.

My first thought upon receiving this Warner Classics release was that it was a transfer and recycling of the quartets the Endellion had originally recorded for Virgin Classics. But no, it’s brand new, recorded in July 2012, and it contains no duplications of the previously recorded numbers. It’s hard to say if the Endellion is simply picking up where it left off a quarter-century ago and continuing on with an eventually complete Haydn cycle, or if this is just another one-off. Remarkably, since the ensemble made those two discs of Haydn quartets for Virgin 25 years ago, membership of the group hasn’t changed. The positions are still chaired by Andrew Watkinson and Ralph de Souza, violins; Garfield Jackson, viola; and David Waterman, cello.

For their new album, the players have chosen three quartets, one from Haydn’s early op. 20 set of “Sun” Quartets; another from his mature third set of “Tost” Quartets, op. 64, and one from his late op. 76 set of six Erdödy Quartets. To conclude the program, the Endellion gives us Haydn’s final string quartet effort, a work he left uncompleted. The ailing Haydn responded to a commission from Count Moritz von Fries by beginning with the two inner movements of the quartet-to-be, the Andante and the Menuetto, intending to compose the more labor-intensive first and last movements when he was feeling better. But Haydn’s health didn’t improve, and he never finished the work. He did, however, pen a musical farewell in the form of 12 notes for the violin, to which he attached the words, Hin ist alle meine Kraft; alt und schwach bin ich (Gone is all my strength; weak and old am I)—10 words, but 12 syllables in the German.

I truly hope the Endellion will continue on with its Haydn survey, and I do hope it won’t be another 25 years before we get the next installment. I don’t think Haydn’s quartets have been all that well served recently on record in modern-instrument performances. Yes, there’s the young, French Ebène Quartet, if you like playing offered with more indulgences than were sold by the Catholic Church. And yes, there’s the Takács Quartet, which plays beautifully but has little feeling for Haydn’s classical manners.

For the most part, I think greater justice has been served to Haydn’s quartets by period-instrument ensembles, such as the Festetics and Mosaïques Quartets. But for those who prefer to hear these works on modern instruments—count me among them—the Endellion Quartet fulfills all the requirements for stylish, historically informed playing benefited by rich tone, pitch-perfect intonation, and smooth, non-aggressive bowing. Now I’m glad I hung on to those two Virgin Classics CDs all these years. They will be happy to have the company of this new release from Warner Classics. Very strongly recommended.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins Read less

Works on This Recording

Quartet for Strings in G major, Op. 76 no 1/H 3 no 75 by Franz Joseph Haydn
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Endellion String Quartet
Period: Classical 
Written: 1797; Vienna, Austria 
Quartet for Strings in D minor, Op. 103/H 3 no 83 by Franz Joseph Haydn
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Endellion String Quartet
Period: Classical 
Written: 1802-1803; Vienna, Austria 
Quartet for Strings in D major, Op. 20 no 4/H 3 no 34 by Franz Joseph Haydn
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Endellion String Quartet
Period: Classical 
Written: 1772; Eszterhazá, Hungary 
Quartet for Strings in D major, Op. 64 no 5/H 3 no 63 "Lark" by Franz Joseph Haydn
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Endellion String Quartet
Period: Classical 
Written: 1790; Eszterhazá, Hungary 

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