HAYDN: String Quartets Op. 71 Nos. 1–3, “Apponyi” – Takács Q. – Hyperion HAYDN: String Quartets Op. 74 Nos. 1–3, “Apponyi” – Takács Q. – Hyperion

by | Dec 13, 2011 | Classical CD Reviews

HAYDN: String Quartets Op. 71 Nos. 1–3, “Apponyi” – Takács Quartet – Hyperion CDA67793 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi], 58:28 *****:
HAYDN: String Quartets Op. 74 Nos. 1–3, “Apponyi” – Takács Quartet – Hyperion CDA67781, 63:43 *****:
While most of Haydn’s quartets from Op. 9 (1771) onward were written and published in groups of six, the six quartets of Opp. 71 and 74 were broken out by his publishers into two groups of three. This was a gimmick on the part of the publishers to increase and (in some cases) double their profits. However, Haydn’s object was to present all six in concert during his second engagement in London 1794. During Haydn’s first visit in 1791–92, the impresario Johann Salomon had included the composer’s newly written Op. 64 Quartets at the same Hanover Square Rooms where the first six of the London Symphonies were performed. This public performance of what the Viennese considered an intimate genre for consumption in private salons opened Haydn’s ears to bigger possibilities for the string quartet. So his next six quartets, dedicated to Count Anton Apponyi, were marked by grand near-symphonic gestures Haydn hadn’t incorporated in the form before.
One of these gestures, as Misha Donat notes in his booklet essay, is that like many of the London Symphonies, all six quartets have some sort of introductory section that adds drama to the opening movements. One, the opening to Op. 71, No. 2, is a mere measure in length, while the introduction to Op. 72, No. 3, is just a single chord. In others, such as Op. 74, Nos. 2 and 3, Haydn linked the introduction thematically to the first theme of the movement, thus anticipating the approach of composers to come, such as Schumann, who often used his introductions to forecast important motifs that would hold a work together.
As in the striking slow movement of the Symphony 103, in Op. 71, No. 3, Haydn incorporates a form he exploited late in his career, a double set of variations—variations on two contrasting themes. Again, this adds a grand scope and scale to the movement: this is the second longest slow movement among the six quartets. In fact, right from the start, in Op. 71, No. 1, Haydn announces the grandeur he thinks the string quartet is capable of with a burst of thick fortissimo chords that launch the lengthiest of the first movements, one of great energy and verve, having a development section that explodes with Dionysian energy. That kind of dynamism recurs in the quartets, especially in the finales of Op. 74, Nos. 1 and 2, which zip along with a Gypsy-style impetuosity. The finale of Op. 74, No. 3, famous enough to have acquired a nickname, “The Rider,” is of another order. Cast in a fevered, driving G minor, there is little respite from the tension in the piece, even in its major-key coda. With all three finales, Haydn is working toward a goal that also informs the late symphonies and piano sonatas: to give the finale a structural and emotional weight matching that of the first movement. For comparison, look at the light, almost divertimento-like Allegretto of Op. 71, No. 2, in which Haydn seems to briefly turn back his compositional clock.
Misha Donat’s notes are full of interesting observations about the use of keys in these quartets, illustrating Haydn’s growing interest in key relationships, which includes modulations to remote and unexpected keys in order to heighten expressivity and create additional tension. Of course, this influenced later composers, including Beethoven, who may not have learned much in Haydn’s presence during their composition lessons together but who nonetheless learned a great deal by perusing the older composer’s scores. When I hear the many influences of Haydn in Beethoven’s works, I’m always reminded of the irony of the blessing that Count Waldstein (dedicatee of the Waldstein Sonata) bestowed on the composer: “May you receive the spirit of Mozart through the hands of Haydn.” Not only did Beethoven fail to receive Mozart’s spirit through Haydn, repeatedly in his works he shows himself more Haydn’s kindred spirit than Mozart’s.
The Takács Quartet, whose Beethoven cycle for Decca is one of the most prized in the catalog, now record for Hyperion. The Quartet has already turned out well-received recordings of Schubert, Brahms, and Schumann. Their earlier Decca recordings of Haydn’s Opp. 76, 77, and 103 are still in the catalog and remain excellent budget choices. Today, with a 50% personnel change from those earlier times, the Takács still plays Haydn with winning grace and energy. This is Haydn on a grand scale, with powerful playing top to bottom, including Anrdás Fejér’s potent cello, heard to best advantage thanks to a relatively close recording that beautifully manages the resonance of the Concert Hall at the Wyastone Estate in Monmouthshire, Wales.
The Takács Quartet is truly an intercontinental enterprise now, founded in Budapest, based surprisingly at the University of Colorado in Boulder, it is comprised of a Briton (Edward Dusinberre, violin 1), two Hungarians (original members Karoly Schranz, violin 2, and Anrdás Fejér, cello), and an American (Geraldine Walther, viola). I’m not sure if this is the beginning of a Haydn series from the Quartet or just a completion of the Quartet’s survey of the Haydn quartets of the 1790s. Given the great success on every score of Opp. 71 and 74, I hope this is just the beginning of a Takács-Haydn partnership on Hyperion.
—Lee Passarella