Haydn String Quartets: Opp 42, 77, 103 – Takacs Quartet – Hyperion

by | Sep 27, 2022 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

HAYDN: String Quartet in D Minor, Op. 42; String Quartet in G Major, Op. 77/1; String Quartet in F Major, Op. 77/2; String Quartet in D Minor, Op. 103 – Takacs String Quartet – Hyperion CDA68364 (9/2/22) (72:39) [Distr. by PIAS] ****  

The Takacs Quartet celebrates 48 years of musical association with this Haydn release, recorded 27-29 April 2021. The Takacs members – Edward Dusinberre and Harumi Rhodes, violins; Richard O’Neill, viola; and Andras Fejer, cello – provide seamless and ardent interpretations of the Haydn’s work, of which the Op. 42 Quartet in D Minor may occupy star status. This 1785 composition opens with a marking, Andante ed innocentemente, which designates a contrived simplicity. Rather melancholy in tone, the music builds on three motifs that rise to a pungent climax. The ensuing Menuetto in D capitalizes on the dialogue procedure of movement one, though the brief Trio in D Minor appeals to Haydn’s sense of polyphony. A serene Adagio e cantabile leads to a “learned” Finale rife with contrapuntal textures that collide with the brisk and witty content of the music. Haydn no less amuses himself by blurring the lines of sonata form, so that we never quite know where his fiery imagination will take us.

The two quartets of 1802, the Op. 77, bear a dedication to Prince Lobkowitz, the same aristocratic patron for Beethoven’s set of Op. 18. The Op. 77 represent Haydn’s final, completed work in the quartet medium. The first, in G Major, opens with a martial Allegro moderato that will eventually assume the shape of a lyrical song. Much of Schubert has been anticipated in this tramping march with spiritual aspirations. Dusinberre’s violin opposes Fejer’s cello at key periods, and the writing indulges in endless violin triplets to ensure the virtuosity of the moment. 

The Adagio in E-flat Major continues to engage first violin and cello in thoughtful dialogue. As the music unfolds in variations on the opening melody, we come to realize we are in the throes of a richly textured passacaglia. One commentator ascribes to this movement the quality of a “deep but dazzling darkness that presages much in the Romantic movement. Despite the designation Menuetto: Presto – Trio for movement three, Haydn proffers real scherzo moment, rife with agogic irregularities and wide leaps in the registers for the melodic line. The Trio in E-flat Major proves even more unruly, an irreverent peasant dance that all but requires Beethoven to take credit for it. Rustic wit dominates the Finale: Presto as well, where Dusinberre’s violin engages in gypsy bravura as the music displays Haydn’s fertile imagination, that gives this rondo any number of textural variants in a blaze of motion that no less certify the Takacs as a master ensemble. 

Portrait of Franz Joseph Haydn

Franz Joseph Haydn

For his Quartet in F Major, Op. 77/2, Haydn chooses a more equitable distribution of motifs to the four instruments. This Allegro moderato engages a broad sonata form, asking second violin Harumi Rhodes to contribute contrapuntal lines to a melody that proceeds in chromatic motion. The harmonic meanderings rather borrow from the “emotional” school of C.P.E. Bach for their intense expressivity. A four-note motif recurs enough times to induce us to think ahead to “fate” in Beethoven. The sudden, unison tremolo from the group startles us, as well it must have in Lobkowitz’s court. 

The energetic Menuetto: Presto ma non troppo comes hard upon the heel of movement one, opposing triple and duple meters and all but asking us to label the music a furiant that anticipates Smetana. The textural ingenuity shines, having Fejer’s cello serve as a percussion instrument. The Trio section occurs in D-flat Major, the music veiled in pianissimo intimacies. The Andante takes us the tenor of the music in D Major, engaging Dusinberre and Fejer in a duet not too far from “Three Blind Mice.” All four instruments dip down into their low registers to intensity the affect. The walking tempo then progresses as a rondo with variations. The cello’s soaring tone, including filigree on the high A, adds a distinctive ardency to the D Minor episode. In fact, the rich tapestry of this one movement may well justify the entire price of admission. The Finale: Vivace assai exploits the prior tugs between duple and triple meters, here in a hybrid dance form, part polonaise and part Slavonic country-dance, replete with bagpipes. The joy of writing quick and brilliant counterpoint has effected a master stroke here in this exuberant demonstration of creative imagination, which the Takacs relishes from the opening notes.

Two “interior” movements constitute Haydn’s 1804 Quartet in D Minor, Op. 103, a work contemporaneous with Beethoven’s Eroica. The Andante grazioso is set in B-flat Major, richly chromatic, with passing canon effects. The modulations in this movement prove quite audacious, moving far afield into G-flat, C# Minor, and E Major. The coda bathes us in a valedictory glow, touched by melancholy. Haydn, at 72 years of age, already may have felt his energies in decline, which may explain the music’s unfinished state. The Menuetto (ma non troppo presto) that marks his last effort, offers rambunctious, martial energy that relies on chromatic texture and disruptive rhythmic thrusts. Dusinberre’s violin has some concertante bravado to offer, and the Trio section attempts to find relative quiet in the major mode.  Nevertheless, the succeeding octave passages and tentative stops and starts suggest what we now interpret as a pre-Romantic impulse to invest the quartet medium with a profound urgency.

—Gary Lemco    

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