HAYDN: The Complete String Quartets Vol. 12 of 14 – String Quartets Op. 74 Nos. 1 – 3 – Auryn String Quartet – Tacet Multichannel DVD-Audio D169, 78 min. [Distr. by Naxos] *****:
Haydn’s later string quartets are some of the finest ever written. They feature complete mastery of compositional techniques, a deep knowledge of counterpoint and harmony, melodic beauty that is often stunning in its creativity and an emotional depth that moves us with the profundity of its exploration of our common humanity. Haydn composed the three Op. 74 quartets along with the three comprising Op. 71 in 1793. The Op. 74 quartets were published in 1796, a year after the Op. 71 set. An agreement with Count Apponyi giving him exclusive use of the quartets for a year explains the delay in publishing. The quartets have been known as the “Apponyi” quartets since their creation. Two seminal events in Haydn’s life influenced their composition – the death of Mozart in 1791 and Haydn’s first visit to England in that same year. String quartets had recently been embraced for public concerts in London, removing them from the hermetic atmosphere of the musical salon and suggesting a broader, more open musical vocabulary to the astute composer. The new expansiveness in these quartets leads directly to Beethoven and his revolutionary series of compositions in the genre.
Haydn begins each of the quartets with an opening of striking originality, as if he were announcing that a new world had been discovered. Each opening movement features writing of painstaking originality, emphasizing the differences between the three works. The writing throughout these quartets is more angular, with frequent leaps of intervals lending a nervous energy to the works. The music often has a barbed-wire jittery quality that seizes our attention, with many passages that feature an almost Romantic era harmonic complexity. A similar quality can be found in Haydn’s masterful final piano trios that he composed at roughly the same time. In the third string quartet in G minor Haydn enters a world of private sorrows that features writing of such advanced harmonic richness it remind us of Schubert. Haydn’s choice of G minor, a highly unusual key for him, and the nature of the music suggest a eulogy in sound for his friend Mozart. The loss at only 35 of the composer Haydn considered the finest he’d ever heard was a tragedy whose scope he knew only too well.
The Auryn Quartet continues their fine traversal of the complete Haydn string quartets on this superb DVD-Audio disc. Their playing features an elegance of expression and an emotional depth that is always right for this music. They are equally adept at moments of tender lyricism as they are with Haydn’s many expressions of rough, rollicking country humor. Such a broad musical palette is a pleasure to listen to and a source of much of what has made this such a successful series.
The Tacet engineers have provided what the label refers to as “Real Surround Sound.” The listener is placed at the center of a circle of life-like sound that quite closely mimics a live performance. The strings have a lustrous bloom that heightens the music’s presence and warmth. Their sound is gentle on the ears while providing a richness and depth that lends real solidity to the performance. With a good surround sound system you will close your eyes and imagine yourself seated in the midst of the performers at a live concert. This is a splendid sonic experience.
— Mike Birman
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