HAYDN: 6 String Quartets, Op. 50 (complete) – Auryn Quartet – Tacet 185 (2 CDs), 147:50 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:
The march continues with volume seven of the Auryn’s Haydn series, these discs capturing the sprightly and glowingly original Op. 50 quartets. These “Prussian” quartets, so-called because they were dedicated to King Wilhelm II, were brought out publicly five years after the explosive Op. 33 set. In the meanwhile the six “Paris” symphonies had been written, and Haydn had also absorbed Mozart’s own response to Op. 33 in his Six Quartets dedicated to Haydn. The Op. 50 was in a way a response to Mozart.
The seriousness, playfulness, and chromaticism all bear the marks of the younger composer, but Haydn is still very much his own man and we come away in no manner confused as to who the composer is. As opposed to Mozart’s extreme lyrical sensibilities, Haydn adopts an almost Beethovenian exponent of motivic cells that dominate this writing. And especially in the last three quartets, those of f-sharp, F, and D, we see an astounding invention at work; the fugal and almost sturm und drang additives of the minor symphony contrast greatly with the subtle yet very involved slow movement Adagio of No. 6 in F. The variety is astonishing, something that sets this set of quartets apart from the others, though in no way denigrating those. Haydn was simply at home in this genre, one he had fathered.
The Auryn provides us with the same level of interpretative nuance and excitement that the other releases have given. I have been very high on this series and see no reason to change my mind about it now. Oh sure, you can always find individual readings of any quartet that might strike your fancy, but as a set these are hard to beat. Some are also being offered in DVD-A and some just on CD—why they didn’t offer them all on SACD remains a mystery to me. [Part of the explanation is that some required more than the 80-minute limit of CDs/SACDs, and DVD-As have at least 90 minutes or more…Ed.]
— Steven Ritter