HAYDN: String Quartets Nos. 1-6, op. 17 – Auryn Quartet – Tacet 175 (2 Discs), 141:00 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:
Anyone following any of the reviews I have done of this series knows that I think it one of, if not the finest collection of Haydn Quartets on the market. When completed it will certainly be a formidable competitor with any of the others currently available. This release, volume 4 of 14 and the 21st release in the Auryn general series on Tacet, does nothing but enhance this opinion.Op. 17 was the set of quartets that Haydn created in 1771, followed the next year by Op. 20. It has similarities to Op. 9, including the four movement structure that had become common at this point with Haydn, the minuet being the second movement in each quartet. Haydn called these “divertimenti”, but it is evident by the nature of these works that they are much more than simple entertainments. The contrast among movements is great, with only the fact of the virtuosic first violin giving away the relatively early status of these pieces. Especially noteworthy are the wonderfully winding and ever-changing flow of the slow movements, surely an advocate of Haydn’s operatic experiences if ever there were any.
These works are full of the nuts and bolts of Haydn’s never-ending bag of tricks that he would use so effectively in future years, albeit in a more tentative and less consistent form. But it is precisely this inconsistency that makes their appearances so rewarding and exciting. These do not have the flavor of the later and greater quartets, but their risk-taking and cast-caution-to-the-wind rambunctious nature make for some lively listening.
What else can I say about the Auryn? It’s as if they lived with Papa Haydn himself while he was composing this music. You don’t get any more tuned in than that, and with Tacet’s superb sound on top of it, a buying decision is almost superfluous.
— Steven Ritter