Notes and Editorial Reviews
String Quartets: in f,
op. 33/3, “The Bird”;
HARMONIA MUNDI HMC 902030 (62:32)
Here are three Haydn quartets played with clarity of part-writing, spot-on intonation, and an understanding of Haydn’s humor and expressiveness—a combination rarely encountered on disc. Perfection in any performance, however, can
only be found in the proverbial fool’s paradise. The Jerusalem Quartet’s imperfections must be forgiven if you want its Haydn to enrich your musical life. I certainly want it to enrich mine.
The F-Minor Quartet is given a more convincing performance than by my other favorites, the Auryn Quartet and the Lindsays. Especially appealing is the Jerusalem Quartet’s handling of the very beautiful F-Major Adagio. The final movement fugue is a letdown, however, for the same reason I gave in a previous review of the Leipzig Quartet’s op. 20 (expected for
35:4). Haydn’s marking of
sempre sotto voce
at the start followed by
at the concluding bars is ignored. The movement sounds
throughout, but the conclusion is somewhat louder—
as intended, I presume. The operational meaning of
is at the hands of the interpreter, but the gossamer sound at the Lindsays’ and the Auryn’s hands is my preference. As I noted in a previous review, the difference might be attributed to a difference in edition. I am not enough of a Haydn scholar (in fact, I am not a Haydn scholar) to know this.
The C-Major Quartet comes close to being a “Bird” of Paradise. The third-movement Adagio, however, is played a bit too fast for my liking, and where a slower tempo is most crucial, from bar 14 (at 0:47) through bar 20, to allow savoring of this beautiful passage, the effect is somewhat of a letdown. Bird of Paradise though it is not, it is still a beautiful “Bird.”
The crown jewel of any collection of Haydn quartets that included it would be the D-Major Quartet, if only because of its Largo (
Cantabile e mesto
) second movement—about eight minutes of musical ecstasy in F?-Major (with alluring modulations). The Jerusalem Quartet proves to be a masterly conduit of Haydn’s supreme mastery of the musical line in the Largo. But again, there is an imperfection. The first-violin triplet-32nd grace notes at bar 21 (starting on F?#) and bar 78 (starting on B?), which are just so very beautiful, are not really audible here or on the Auryn’s disc or on the Budapest String Quartet’s discs (the Library of Congress concert, 1941, on Bridge, and years later the vinyl disc), but are very clear on the Lindsays’ disc. Similar triplet-32nd grace notes at bar 14 and bar 15 are fully audible on all five discs, as is the equally beautiful turn at bar 74. Perhaps the factor is omission rather than inaudibility; if so, then incomprehensibly so. The concluding movement that famously begins with an ending (leading-tone/tonic outburst) is an example of Haydn’s humor fully exploited by the Jerusalem Quartet.
This disc forms Volume 2 of what I hope will eventually become a full traversal of the Haydn quartets by the Jerusalem Quartet, which has provided a valuable contribution to the Haydn string quartet discography. If you are not a fan of Haydn quartets, this disc will make you one. If you
a fan of Haydn quartets and you omit this disc from your collection, you might lose your fanship.
FANFARE: Burton Rothleder
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