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Hyperion Records

CDA67793 - Haydn: String Quartets Op 71
Passing Storm in Yosemite (1865) by Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902)
Private Collection / © Christie's Images / Bridgeman Art Library, London
CDA67793

Recording details: Various dates
Concert Hall, Wyastone Estate, Monmouth, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: November 2011
DISCID: 980DB20C
Total duration: 58 minutes 26 seconds

SUNDAY TIMES CLASSICAL CD OF THE WEEK
THE NEW YORKER BEST CLASSICAL RECORDINGS OF THE YEAR 2011

'Takács Quartet delivers these works with commanding verve and style, often casting novel perspectives on pieces which deserve to be far better known than they actually are … Op 71 No 2 has at its heart one of the most radiant Adagio slow movements to be found among Haydn's later quartets … and it is played here with exceptionally beautiful tone and unerring refinement by the Takács Quartet' (Gramophone)

'Structure and integrity of feeling are heard here in abundance … they unfold the Adagio cantabile of the Quartet in D major, Op 71 No 2 with an unhurried fullness and luminosity … these readings never sound mannered, but alive' (BBC Music Magazine)

'The musicians' clarity of line and perfect balance, well reflected in Hyperion's recording … after these magnificent CDs, if the Takács wanted to record Haydn's other 62 quartets, I wouldn't raise a hand to stop them' (The Times)

'Now led by the Englishman Edward Dusinberre—who relishes the Haydn virtuosity demanded of Salomon—the Takács play this ever-surprising music with their characteristic imagination, contrapuntal rigour, sensitivity to texture and colour, and, in the dizzying finales, wit. They are the epitome of Goethe's four intelligent conversationalists, always fresh in their response to Haydn's astonishing inventiveness' (The Sunday Times)

'Does it need saying that they're awfully good? Here is Haydn in all his inexhaustible moods and guises … a constant source of wonder … the Takács players have the magical gift of playing them so that they seem absolutely right … in the opening Adagio of Op 71 No 2, rich broken chords—no attacking crunches here—punctuate a line of soft and delicious anticipation leading into the open-hearted high jinks of the Allegro … a constant and rewarding delight' (The Strad)

String Quartets Op 71
Allegro  [6'56]
Adagio  [5'01]
Vivace  [5'02]
Adagio  [5'19]
Allegretto  [3'22]
Vivace  [6'19]
Andante con moto  [6'46]
Vivace  [4'00]

These quartets date from 1793 and were written when Haydn returned home to Vienna after a visit to London which had cemented his international fame as a composer and public figure.

The composer wrote a set of six string quartets for Count Anton Apponyi, a chamberlain at the Imperial Court. The set was broken up into two groups of three and sold to separate publishers, thus becoming the Op 71 and Op 74 Quartets, both released this month by the acclaimed Takács Quartet.

The quartets possess an orchestral sonority, and the frequent modulations, dynamic variations and increasingly virtuosic writing can be derived from elements of the six London Symphonies. They demonstrate the composer’s astonishing elegance, lyricism and his immense skill in fusing the profound with the light-hearted.

In these compelling interpretations the Takács Quartet display an absolute unanimity of tone and style and cement their reputation as one of today’s greatest string quartets.


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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
In 1790 Haydn found his circumstances rapidly changing. Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, his employer for nearly thirty years, died in the autumn of that year, and Haydn was now free to capitalize on his immense renown in Europe. The London-based violinist and impresario Johann Peter Salomon lost no time in securing his services, and on New Year’s Day 1791 the great composer arrived in England for the first time. It may have been Salomon who suggested that he should bring with him his latest—and as yet unpublished—string quartets, Op 64. In the Vienna of Haydn’s day the string quartet had always been reserved for performance in front of a select circle of connoisseurs, but quartets were regularly included in Salomon’s subscription concerts at the Hanover Square Rooms. Perhaps it was in the light of hearing his quartets played in public for the first time that Haydn began the slow movement of his Symphony No 93—the first work of its kind he composed in London—with the sound of a solo string quartet, before the remaining players entered in the ninth bar, tutti ma piano.

Following his return to Vienna in the summer of 1792, Haydn composed another set of string quartets in preparation for his second London visit, beginning in February 1794. The increased brilliance and energy of these six new works, Opp 71 and 74, as well as their orchestrally inclined textures and striking dramatic effects, suggest that this time they must have been intended for performance in front of a large audience from the outset. Their public nature is shown not least by the fact that in common with the ‘London’ symphonies Haydn composed around the same time, all six works begin with a form of introduction. In the case of the D major Quartet, Op 71 No 2, the smooth phrases of the slow introduction serve to offset the leaping staccato main theme of the Allegro, but in the remainder the curtain is raised with a much briefer gesture that acts, at least in part, as a call to attention—a signal to the audience to cease its chatter. In the last quartet of the Op 71 triptych, Haydn’s beginning is even more laconic than the famous opening of Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ Symphony: where Beethoven needs two peremptory E flat major chords to set the music in motion, Haydn makes do with only one.

More decisive and emphatic than the single-chord beginning of Op 71 No 3 are the opening bars of the B flat major first quartet in the series: five thickly scored fortissimo chords, with the upper three instruments playing in double stops throughout, and the final chord, planting the music firmly in the home key, containing no fewer than ten notes. This is altogether one of Haydn’s most ebullient pieces, with the music impatiently releasing its pent-up energy even before the main subject has been allowed to run its full course. Although the initial chords stand outside the main framework of the movement they return in an altered form to round off the exposition, so that when the repeat is made they again preface the main subject. As so often with Haydn, the second subject is a variant of the first, the chief contrast in this case being one of articulation: while the first subject echoes the dry staccato of the initial series of chords, the second is gentler and more expressive, and accompanied by smooth ascending scales.

The theme of the slow movement, in siciliano-like rhythm, has the lower pair of instruments in a smooth, yearning ascent, and the first violin’s melody descending to meet them. Following a murmuring middle section that takes the music into ‘flatter’ regions, the initial melody returns, this time with its individual phrases prefaced by a grace note, like a kind of expressive glottal stop. In the closing bars, the murmuring sound of the middle section makes itself briefly felt again, before the music fades away into the distance.

The minuet shows Haydn’s wit at its most sophisticated, with the opening six-bar theme immediately restated in full, but harmonized entirely differently. Moreover, at the end, the music’s texture is inverted, so that the initial cello accompaniment now appears at the top, and the theme beneath it.

The finale is as energetic as the opening movement, with rapid repeated notes played by bouncing the bow off the string, and passages of gypsy exuberance that have syncopated inner parts and a drone-like bass line. If the central development section is unusually brief, Haydn more than makes amends by incorporating a lengthy developmental passage into the recapitulation, in a manner typical of his late style. Despite the high jinx of the piece as a whole, Haydn surprisingly allows it to draw to a pianissimo close—the only subdued ending to be found among the six ‘Salomon’ quartets.

The brief slow introduction that prefaces the D major Quartet, Op 71 No 2, is a feature unique to Haydn’s mature string quartets. That introduction, with its twofold octave drop for the first violin in its opening bars, subtly anticipates the Allegro’s energetic main subject, which has falling octave leaps for all four players in turn. The octave skip permeates the entire movement: even the ‘bouncing’ closing theme, whose popular style offers such apparent contrast, has strategically placed sforzato accents to emphasize the tune’s octave outer limits. At the start of the recapitulation Haydn follows his plunging octaves with a magical moment of hushed stillness, in which the music turns to the minor, and the octaves now ascend in a chain that passes from the bottom of the texture to the top.

The slow movement is one of those great Adagios of Haydn’s late years that seem to unfold in the form of a seamless meditation on its opening theme. The piece is ostensibly a sonata form, but one so broad that the recapitulation could not be allowed to mirror its first half too closely without running the risk of wholesale repetition. Instead, the reprise, following a splendid excursion into a richly sonorous C major, is cast as an ornate variation.

The assertive minuet (its theme ‘fills in’ the octave leaps from the first movement, though their presence is still palpable) meets its obverse side in the trio—a mysterious piece that conspicuously seems to lack a theme. As for the finale, it sets out as a gentle Allegretto; but following a middle section in the minor, the reprise accelerates in its final pages, to bring the work to a brilliant conclusion that has all four players scurrying in fortissimo octaves.

Following its peremptory single-chord opening gesture, Haydn sets the Quartet Op 71 No 3 in motion with a theme whose melodic intervals of a falling third and a rising fourth inform the Vivace’s entire material. In the exposition’s second stage, the main subject is momentarily presented in a tightly knit canon; and following much chromatic slithering on the first violin, which brings with it the hint of a mini-cadenza, it is heard again in an ‘out-of-phase’ form against a pulsating repeated-note accompaniment.

The central development section begins with a turn to the minor, and Haydn soon uses the staccato repeated notes from the main subject’s tail-end to effect a splendid switch of key. By altering the notation of the third degree of the E flat minor scale from G flat to its aural equivalent F sharp, and by having the cello’s staccato repeated notes move up a semitone, from B flat to B natural, he is able to take the music at a stroke into the key of B minor. The development also incorporates a false reprise in A flat major, which no doubt explains why the main theme is cut so drastically short when the real recapitulation arrives. There is also a substantial coda which begins by recalling the sound of the tonic minor, and ends in a riot of trills.

The slow movement is one of those pieces in which Haydn delights in fusing the forms of variation and rondo. The harmonization of the theme itself incurs the use of ‘forbidden’ parallel octaves between the two violins; and to make sure their presence would not be regarded as an oversight on his part, Haydn excuses himself by writing the word licenza into the second violin part. The plangent sound of the octaves serves to stress the theme’s Balkan flavour, which is further enhanced by the fact that its first half cadences into the minor—and a wholly unexpected minor key at that. The opening stage is followed by a closely related minor-mode theme (there are more proscribed parallel octaves in its second half), as though the piece as a whole were to be cast in that characteristic double variation form that finds Haydn varying two themes alternately. Such a form is at first contradicted by the simple, rondo-like return of the initial theme; but then confirmed after all by a fully fledged variation of the same theme featuring a ‘running’ part in semiquaver triplets for the first violin. The minor-mode theme makes a return, too, now darkly scored with all four instruments playing at the lowest end of their range. Its second half, however, takes off in a new direction, before it eventually dissolves—in an overwhelming contrast of tone-colour—into a variation of the initial theme, played staccato assai in an ethereally high register. From this point on, the sectional form is abandoned altogether, as the music gropes its way towards a close tinged with melancholy, and coloured once more by Haydn’s parallel octaves.

The gracefully flowing lines of the minuet may remind us of the trio from the corresponding movement of Haydn’s famous ‘Surprise’ Symphony No 94. The quartet piece actually behaves more like a trio than a minuet, and not only does it begin away from the home key, but it fails altogether to establish that key until just a few bars before its close. Nor, harmonically speaking, is the trio a great deal better behaved, though the closing bars of each of its halves, taking Salomon’s violin up into the stratosphere, are more orderly.

The finale finds Haydn taking a stab at the quick waltz, though as things turn out the tune’s simple accompaniment serves to offset some rigorous contrapuntal writing elsewhere in the piece. So keen is Haydn to maintain the counterpoint of the energetically contrapuntal episode which follows the opening pages that he curtails the reprise of the waltz-tune to a mere four bars, as though it were a false alarm. The genuine reprise occurs shortly afterwards, and in the closing pages Haydn introduces a different kind of counterpoint whereby the tune is transferred to the bass while a new, syncopated theme unfolds above it. At the end, the scurrying figuration of the episode returns in a non-contrapuntal form, to bring the work to a brilliant close.

Misha Donat © 2011

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