HAYDN: 3 String Quartets, Op. 54 – Parkanyi Quartet – Praga Digitals multichannel SACD 250272, 67:25 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
The Parkanyi Quartet is a long-established ensemble, reappearing now after 20 years when it disbanded under the name of the Orlando Quartet, with a new cellist as the only change in makeup. They certainly sound like a group that has been playing together for a long while, with little flips of phrasing and portamento that often feel contrived in ensembles that are either ad-hoc or throw-together. The sound they make is one of firm unanimity of concept, and their approach to Haydn straddles the line between modern sensibilities and their own unique concept of how this composer should be played. I detected no hesitancy or indecision about these pieces, which sound as sturdy and steady as one could wish for, the results of years of thinking about and playing these works, even though the current roster has been on hold for so many years.
Haydn’s Op. 54 and 55 were created together (he often composed in sixes) but have the honor of being perhaps more disconnected in style and emotive tone than any other set of quartets he wrote, which might explain why these were ultimately issued in two sets of three under different opus numbers. His Op. 33 of course set the bar very high, essentially defining the modern classical style up to that time, so much so that Mozart himself felt compelled to write a response in his Six Quartets dedicated to Haydn. But these quartets under consideration have a life all their own, each a gorgeous offering to the public as to how influential and affecting quartet music could be, individual and highly standalone as works of art, and lofting the genre to the already elevated-status of the symphony.
Praga’s digital extroversion is perfect for this music, making full use of the surround sound to great effect. The Parkanyi has already recorded the Op. 33 (which I have not heard) and I cannot wait—assuming it is in the works—for the follow-up Op. 55 to appear.
— Steven Ritter