The London Haydn Quartet
155:52 (2 CDs)
hyperion CDA 68230
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Haydn’s opp 71 and 74 sets of string quartets were composed in Vienna in 1793 between his two London visits, and with London performances very much in mind. It is not too fanciful to speculate that the earlier London performances of some of Haydn’s op 64 quartets, the first time the composer had witnessed his quartets being presented to large audiences, may have influenced the style of the two later sets of quartets, which may sometimes seem to sacrifice intimacy in favour of a more public musicality, with boldly declamatory melodies and occasional flamboyant gestures. The London Haydn Quartet’s choice of acoustic, the relatively intimate ambience of Potton Hall, may seem to be at odds with this, and (to begin with) I found the relatively cramped sound a little off-putting. The Quartet’s superlative playing soon helped to overcome this, and the smaller bloom allows the listener to focus on their impeccable technical prowess, warm tone and perfect balance. Playing period instruments, the Quartet has also returned to the original 1796 publications of both sets, but more importantly, like their fellow period-instrument quartet the Quatuor Mosaïques, their freshness of approach allows us to experience this music as if it was new. The group was founded in 2000 with the specific aim of exploring the chamber music of Haydn on period instruments, and this delightful and packed double CD set provides wonderfully eloquent accounts of some of Haydn’s most satisfying string quartets.