Haydn: String Quartets Op 54 & 74 / Endellion Quartet
Virgin Classics Veritas
Franz Joseph Haydn
Endellion String Quartet
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Notes and Editorial Reviews
The Endellion String Quartet only made few recordings of Haydn String Quartets for Virgin Classics, but what they did was absolutely outstanding. Op. 54, in particular, contains what is arguably Haydn’s most original work in the form: No. 2 in C major. Haydn regarded the key of C as a sort of blank slate on which he could explore the widest range of harmonic and formal audacities. The opening movement reveals the work’s astonishing range of tonality right from the start, but that’s nothing compared to what happens next.
The second movement is a passacaglia above which the first violin plays an improvisational Hungarian rhapsody of unforgettable intimacy. There has been nothing like
it in the quartet literature before or since, and you would never suspect the work to come from the 18th century at all. The music is absolutely timeless (first sound sample). Next comes a curiously subdued minuet which is joined to the open-ended slow movement. This is one of Haydn’s “tragic” minuets, a genre of which he was probably the sole noteworthy exponent. Here, it’s the trio section that erupts, surprisingly, with the darkest and most intense feeling. The finale, on the other hand, is an enigma: a serene adagio enfolding a presto central episode.
Op. 74 dates from Haydn’s London period. These quartets were written for public performance, and they are accordingly grander in scale, and full of those popular tunes that made Haydn the most famous composer in Europe during his lifetime. His originality, however, is as striking as ever, nowhere more so than in the “Rider” Quartet in G minor, with its grotesque opening gesture, and “horseback” finale (second sound sample). As you can plainly hear, these performances are soulful, perfectly balanced, timbrally idiomatic, and beautifully recorded. This disc is ideal both for serious collectors and newcomers looking for a sensible place to start exploring these endlessly entertaining works.
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