String Quartets, Op. 64 Nos 1-6
London Haydn Quartet
Hyperion CDA68221 145:21 mins (2 discs) By far the most famous among this great set of string quartets is the ‘Lark’
Op. 64 No. 5
– so called for the soaring violin tune near its beginning. ★aydn composed these works in 1790, when his circumstances were rapidly changing: Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, his employer for nearly 30 years, died that year, and ★aydn found himself free to ply his trade elsewhere. The popular cut of the ‘Lark’, with its helter-skelter finale,
shows his wish to now find a wider public even for his chamber music. Several of these quartets were actually performed during his first London visit in 1791-93.
More ambiguous in tone than the ‘Lark’ is Op. 64’s second quartet, its cheerful opening unaccompanied violin tune, seemingly in a bright D major, abruptly interrupted by a dramatic chord from the remaining players which throws the music into its actual, and much darker, key of B minor. ★aydn’s tempo marking for the movement is Allegro spiritoso, but you’d never guess it from the London ★aydn Quartet’s lugubrious performance. It’s hard to know how the players can have misjudged the music’s character to such a degree. The drama and wit of ★aydn’s music are sorely lacking in these accounts as a whole, with only the presto finales of the fourth and sixth quartets imparting a feeling of genuine energy. Elsewhere, lethargic tempos and seriously underplayed dynamic contrasts make for a rather dispiriting experience. Misha Donat PERFORMANCE ★★ RECORDING ★★★★★