More than any other movement in Op 9, the opening Moderato of the G major quartet, No 3, often sounds like a brilliant violin concerto scaled down for chamber forces. Only at the end of the development do the lower instruments emerge from their accompanying role and become equal partners in a passage of close-knit counterpoint. The minuet trades on bare two-part writing, with the first and second violins playing in octaves, a ‘primitive’, quasi-rustic texture carried over from the Opp 1 and 2 quartets. Haydn then plays rhythmic games in the trio, with the first violin insisting on duple metre against the repeatedly accented triple time of the lower instruments. In her 1966 BBC Music Guide
to the Haydn quartets Rosemary Hughes rightly praised the ‘noble seriousness’ of the Largo, with its eloquent theme gravely coloured by the violin’s G string and its dreamy triplet figuration. If this is one of the most beautiful slow movements in Op 9, the finale is surely the wittiest. Haydn manipulates the two ‘limbs’ of the folk-like main theme in all sorts of unexpected ways, and starts the recapitulation in the unscripted key of E minor before quickly slipping to G major as if nothing had happened.
from notes by Richard Wigmore © 2007