Perhaps the most striking feature of No 2’s opening Moderato is the beautiful harmonic ‘purple patch’ towards the end of the exposition. After the leader has vaulted into the stratosphere, motion is suddenly suspended as the music darkens from B flat major (the dominant of the home key, E flat), through B flat minor, to a haunting, pianissimo G flat, before B flat is re-asserted with a flurry of skittering triplets. With its chromatic inner lines, the minuet is the suavest and, to our ears, the most ‘Mozartian’ in the Op 9 quartets. A few years later Haydn reused its theme as the basis of a set of keyboard variations. The rhapsodic opening of the C minor Adagio sounds like a keyboard improvisation transcribed for strings. Then, with a change to triple metre, the leader spins a sorrowful song, like an opera seria aria translated into instrumental terms. The finale’s catchy, syncopated subject turns up at the start of the development with a witty exchange of roles (the syncopations now in the cello), and then re-enters after just eight bars in the home key of E flat. But what initially seems to be one of Haydn’s ‘false recapitulations’ turns out to be the real thing after all, duly celebrated in a bout of gleeful repartee for all four instruments.
from notes by Richard Wigmore © 2007