Notes and Editorial Reviews
String Quartets: in G,
op. 74/3, “Reiterquartett”
ACCENT 24223 (64:21)
The present-day Schuppanzigh Quartet of course takes its name from the ensemble of Beethoven’s time that gave the premiere performances of many of that master’s quartets. The members of this German group perform on period instruments
and have also been active in other well-known period-instrument ensembles, including Concerto Köln, Musica Antiqua Köln, the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra, and Les Musiciens du Louvre, in some cases serving as first-chair players. This release is the third in a series of single discs devoted to Haydn quartets. Rather than focus on a single set, the Schuppanzigh Quartet has chosen on each disc to present a selection of three quartets drawn from different periods of Haydn’s productivity, providing a snapshot of the development of his quartet style. The first two installments received rather mixed reviews in
(33:1 and 33:6). I haven’t heard those earlier releases, but the performances on this new disc, which offers quartets dating from 1772, 1788, and 1793, seem to me generally excellent. In these works the Schuppanzigh players display a colorful, euphonious, well-balanced sonority, a clear and open texture, a subtly flexible tempo control, a fine sense of phrasing, and a telling control of dynamics.
My collection is not especially rich in recordings of op. 20/2 but includes elderly recordings by the Esterházy and Tátrai Quartets (Seon and Hungaroton respectively), a middle-aged one by the Salomon Quartet (Hyperion), and a recent one by the Buchberger Quartet (Brilliant). I find the Schuppanzigh rendition more interesting and satisfying than any of these, even the Buchberger. The Schuppanzigh treatment of the first movement benefits from superior articulation and detail, and playing that has an engaging liveliness and variety. In addition to the exposition repeat, the Schuppanzigh performance includes a second repeat in the development and recapitulation, as does the Salomon. The rather strange Capriccio second movement is still more quirky and capricious in the hands of the Schuppanzigh players than in the Buchberger reading, let alone the comparatively neutral Salomon and Esterházy interpretations. The Schuppanzigh’s Minuet is notable for gracefulness and poise. In the fugal finale I prefer the Schuppanzigh’s slightly more deliberate tempo to the Buchberger’s headlong one, notwithstanding the brilliant playing of the latter ensemble.
Among five performances I have compared, there is little difference in tempo in the first movement of op. 54/1, but the Schuppanzigh treatment is notable for its variety, clarity of texture, attention to detail, and colorful sonority. This ensemble’s pacing for the
second movement is much quicker than that of the Párkányi and Kodály Quartets (Praga and Naxos respectively) or the Juilliard Quartet (on an old Epic LP) and makes theirs seem lethargic by comparison. The polished Endellion Quartet (Virgin) falls in between in terms of tempo but avoids dragging. In the Menuetto, also marked
, the Schuppanzigh performance seems hurried and a bit nervous, and I prefer the more measured but still forward-moving pace of the other ensembles. The
finale, on the other hand, is not overdriven but is suitably energetic and exuberant.
The “Rider” Quartet, op. 74/3, derives its name from the recurrent galloping rhythm in the finale. In the first movement, the Schuppanzigh rendition is more strongly shaped and characterized than the other two period-instrument performances I have on hand, by the Salomon and Festetics Quartets (the latter on Arcana). As elsewhere in this recital, it benefits from this ensemble’s richly colorful yet highly transparent sonority. The Schuppanzigh once again takes a second repeat in the development and recapitulation, in addition to the exposition repeat, as does the Salomon. The Buchberger Quartet’s reading of this movement is very urgent and vehement, sometimes seeming a bit overdriven, while its blended sound and the reverberant acoustic in which it was recorded limit clarity of articulation. The Endellion Quartet combines equal urgency and vehemence with tonal polish, linear flow, and unforced momentum. The Schuppanzigh players give a probing reading of the slow movement, but the violins here can be too insistent and overbearing in loud, high-lying passages, and both the Buchberger and the Endellion better sustain linear continuity and forward motion. Although the movement is marked
, the Salomon and Festetics ensembles seem too slow here and suffer from a degree of stasis. A lively Menuetto, the quickest of the lot, and an energetic, well articulated finale close out the Schuppanzigh performance.
The sound of this release is notable for realism, clarity, and excellent bass presence. Instrumental timbres are very well defined and are individualized to an unusual degree. The soundstage has exemplary spaciousness and depth. All told, this is a distinctive and rewarding Haydn disc and is recommended.
FANFARE: Daniel Morrison
Works on This Recording
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