HAYDN: Quartets in D Minor Op. 9 No. 4 & F Major Op. 77 No. 2 – Fry Street Quartet – IsoMike

by | Dec 23, 2008 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

HAYDN: Quartets in D Minor Op. 9 No. 4 & F Major Op. 77 No. 2 – Fry Street Quartet – IsoMike Multichannel (4.0) SACD FSQCD4, 41:21 **** [www.isomike.com]:

The two Haydn string quartets on this SACD are separated by nearly three decades of artistic growth. His appointment in 1861 with the Esterhazy family, the most important and influential of the Hungarian nobility, ended a period of financial instability for the young composer. Haydn’s thirty year career as a court musician provided him with constant access to some of Europe’s finest musicians. Significantly, Haydn’s residence on the Esterhazy country estate imposed such geographical isolation that it forced him to rely on his creativity while engaged in nearly constant composition. Haydn was contractually obligated to provide Prince Nicholas Esterhazy with an ample stream of symphonies, chamber music, and music for both the church and the theater.

Haydn’s earliest string quartets (Opp. 1 and 2) are really divertimentos that are written in the mid-century galant style. With his Op. 9 quartets composed ca. 1770 Haydn eliminates one of the minuets, producing the four-movement structure typical of the symphony. The quartet Op. 9, No. 4 that appears on this beautifully performed SACD is the first minor key quartet Haydn produced. It reflects in its brooding intensity and atmosphere of limpid emotional darkness the Sturm und Drang style found in many mid-18th century orchestral works. Haydn raised the style to its highest artistic level in his contemporaneous symphonies. The Op. 9 quartet features passages of thrilling virtuosity, with the first violin engaged in a brilliant musical monolog in the lyrical slow movement.  Texture is more variable than in the earlier quartets with richer counterpoint, especially in the outer movements. Haydn has lifted the string quartet from its beginnings as merely casual entertainment into the much loftier realm of art music. He has done this while offering simple enjoyment for all listeners, and not only those aristocratic connoisseurs who were his patrons. That is the essence of his greatness as a composer.

Almost thirty years later Haydn produced his last complete work in the genre, the String Quartet in F, Op. 77, No. 2. Dedicated to Prince Lobkowitz – later a famous patron of Beethoven – this brilliant quartet exhibits all of Haydn’s mature artistry. There are passages of complex polyphony that morph into beautifully lyrical homophonic sections where simple folksong –like melodies pass gently from player to player. The two sides of Haydn’s personality seem to come to life in this supreme example of his artistry: that impalpable blend of serious purpose and insouciant playfulness that informs all of his greatest work.

The young Fry Street Quartet has the measure of these quartets, playing them with expressive ease; they seem to disappear into the music, allowing it to speak for itself. Complex passages are vivid and articulate while the simpler lyrical pages are suffused with a bright and joyous radiance. Occasionally there is a little too much anonymity in their playing. The music misses the stamp of authority that a great quartet provides in a performance. That is usually a function of time which one hopes this talented quartet will have in abundance.

There is richness and immediacy in the sound of the instruments, heightened by the well-defined presence of the DSD recording. The recording engineers utilize an experimental acoustic baffle system that isolates each microphone, eliminating some of the line-of-sight wave cancellations that can reduce fidelity. There is a lovely bloom to the instruments, whatever the reason might be. Sound is reverberant and evenly spread across the sound field, in spite of being 4.0 channels instead of 5.0. One quibble is the length of the SACD: at 41 minutes it feels somewhat truncated.  The fact that I wanted to hear more music is a sign of this recording’s many fine qualities.

– – Mike Birman

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