HAYDN: String Quartets op. 20, No. 3; Op. 74, No. 1; Op. 76, No. 1 – The Amsterdam String Quartet – Channel Classics

by | Oct 18, 2007 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

HAYDN: String Quartets op. 20, No. 3; Op. 74, No. 1; Op. 76, No. 1 – The Amsterdam String Quartet – Channel Classics Multichannel SACD CCS SA 25907, 69:07 ****:

Haydn basically invented the string quartet genre, and his works have ever since set the standard; and yes, even with the competition of the brilliant works from his much-admired colleague Mozart. There is simply too much invention, fire, and confounding musical aptitude in these works to ever be dismissed as anything but the summit of the literature. Of course, not all of them are created equal, and this recording gives us a sample of early-but-great (his first mature works), almost late, and supreme (the Op. 76).

The Amsterdam Quartet is a young and relatively new one playing solely on period instruments (or reasonable facsimiles thereof), and this is their first recording for Channel in quite reverberant Super Audio sound. In fact, this is one of those cases where I am not sure the SACD adds all that much, as sometimes the instruments sound too diffuse and tend to lose a coherent quartet-unanimity so essential to any great recordings of these pieces. Listening to them now in standard stereo, I seem to get a sense of ensemble that is not quite present in the more spacious SACD setup. Maybe it’s just my room, I don’t know, but there it is. And it’s not as though the SACD is bad, just not what I wish it was. [Seems that the surround option would exhibit less of this problem than the stereo SACD option, especially if the surround channels were slightly reduced in level…Ed.]

I cannot tell how much the fact of the period instruments influence this either, for I have noticed that period players do tend to come across differently in SACD situations than their modern instrument counterparts. Perhaps it is because the timbres are simply different; this might make for a nice Master’s thesis topic if anyone out there is reading this, but it does point to the inordinate care that a recording engineer working in this hi-fi business must take each time he or she is setting up the mikes.

This quartet is going to embark on a project in 2009 to take on all 68 of the Haydn quartets. No mention is made in the notes as to whether Channel will be there to capture it all on disc—what a blessing another complete Haydn series would be, especially in SACD, period instruments or no, and with the hope of a little better sonic capture—but one can hope so. These works on this disc under consideration are done with a lot of energy, stylistically attuned without any overbearing ideologies present, and presenting the music as music first and foremost, with all of the inherent joys of emotive expression coming through loud and clear. I can’t say if I would make these or any future endeavors by this group my preferred Haydn Quartet listening, for I like vibrato and other non-period practices too much to change my evil ways, but they have convinced me of the viability of their approach, and I enjoyed this disc very much indeed.

— Steven Ritter

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