HAYDN: String Quartets Vol. 10 = String Quartets Op. 64 Nos. 1–6 – Auryn Quartet – Tacet (2 CDs)

by | Dec 6, 2010 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

HAYDN: String Quartets Vol. 10 = String Quartets Op. 64 Nos. 1–6 – Auryn Quartet – Tacet 189 (2 CDs), 75:36; 64:12 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:
Op. 64 contains the last six of the so-called “Tost Quartets,” which join Op. 54 Nos. 1–3 and Op. 55 Nos. 1–3. Their dedicatee, Johann Tost, headed the second violins in the Estherhazy Palace Orchestra and was later a businessman acting as an agent to music publishers in Paris. Though not everything is known about his business ventures (or his life in general), he seems to have been less than forthright, at least in his dealings with Haydn. As agent to the publisher Jean-Georges Sieber, Tost apparently not only sold the Op. 54 and 55 Quartets (1789-1790) and two symphonies (Nos. 88 and 89 of 1787) that Haydn had commissioned him to sell but tried to palm off a symphony by another composer as Haydn’s. He was also reportedly slow to pay Haydn his fees.
Later, Tost married the housekeeper of the Esterhazy Palace (a very wealthy woman), and settled down in Vienna, now as a prosperous cloth merchant. It appears Haydn and he patched up any differences they might have had, since the first published version of the Op. 64 Quartets (1791) bears the dedication to Tost mentioned above. A strange backstory to an affable half-dozen pieces of chamber music.
Despite some innovations in quartet writing that show up in Op. 64, these are works of consolidation and retrospection, as Thomas Seedoff says in his notes to this recording. They look back to the pioneering efforts Haydn had made in the form, especially in Op. 33 (1781), which really set the tone for Haydn’s later quartet music. Fluid phrasing and counterpoint are two of the hallmarks of Op. 33 that are carried on in later quartets, including Op. 64. Perhaps the most striking development in Op. 64 is the greater profundity of the slow movements, probably the result of Haydn’s symbiotic relationship with Mozart. Each composer influenced the other’s work in the quartet medium, and each grew through this experience.
Not coincidentally, the most often heard of these quartets is Op. 64 No. 5, the only one bearing a nickname. It’s called the “Lark” Quartet because of the first theme of the first movement, played by the violin in a constantly rising fashion, which is true of the flight pattern and songs of larks. The last movement, too, is a lark: swift and rollicking, with memorably jaunty melodies. But the other quartets certainly have something to say as well. The charming theme-and-variations third movement of Op. 64 No. 1 is typical of the new and improved Haydn slow movement. No. 2 in B Minor, the only minor-key quartet in the set, has a fiery, scherzo-like third movement that looks ahead to Haydn’s Op. 77 Quartets, plus a skipping finale with an especially long development section featuring some pretty involved counterpoint.
The Auryn Quartet has set the standard for Haydn quartet performance in their series of recordings, and they don’t disappoint in Volume 10. These are polishe, highly urbane performances, as they must be to match the music, but they’re also full of the sheer joy of music-making that comes from a deep appreciation of Haydn’s gift to the world. The Auryn obviously loves this music and understands its significance. Once again, Tacet’s engineering is all that it should be; this is what a string quartet sounds like from a good seat (maybe half way back) in a medium-sized hall. Lovely all around and strongly recommended.
— Lee Passarella

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