HAYDN: String Quartets Nos. 1 – 6, Op. 20, “Sun” – Pellegrini Quartet – CPO

by | Jun 12, 2008 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

HAYDN:  String Quartets Nos. 1 – 6, Op. 20, “Sun” –  Pellegrini Quartet – CPO Multichannel SACD 777 173-2 (2 discs), 134:22 total **** [Distr. by Naxos]:

I didn’t really like these at first—the playing is somewhat rough, coarse, and quite frankly, rather old fashioned. But as the Pellegrini took me through a tour of the “Sun” quartets (and despite the somewhat ridiculous meanderings in the notes regarding the “Sun” in history and its significance to the arts – the association is simply because there was a picture of the Sun on the cover of the first published edition) I began to really dig into what they were doing with these works. The quartets are seminal; along with the Op. 17, perhaps the first genuinely great set of the genre ever created. What Mozart did with opera and its derivative semblances in the miraculous piano concertos, Haydn was accomplishing in equal measure in his quartets and symphonies. These pieces are astounding in the originality, and remain some of the most engaging music you will ever hear.

Nonetheless, I found myself troubled by these performances. They reminded me of the old Budapest Quartet—lots of portamento, and sound that is somewhat akin to rare roast beef and a really fat red wine with lots of tannin. They are not suave, silken, or well-groomed. This is Haydn having a drink and a meal with the musicians in the back room kitchen after a concert. The ruggedness of the playing is by no means sloppy, just earthy. After the first three quartets here (listed as 2, 5, and 4 on the first CD), I was primed at the sensational and complex No. 6; Ending with No. 1 was a joy unto itself.

Would I want this as my only set? Probably not, though not out of the question as I have a feeling familiarity will breed comfort. The SACD sound is very fine, nicely distributed though somewhat close in. Those wanting a mannered, manicured, and icily slick reading more in tune with the modern school will not like this. Those wanting the personal and gritty side of Haydn will find much to admire in the performances.

— Steven E. Ritter

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