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String Quartet in E flat major, Op 20 No 1
1772; Sun Quartet No 1

'Haydn: String Quartets Op 20' (CDA67877)
Haydn: String Quartets Op 20
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'Haydn: Sun Quartets Nos 1, 2 & 3' (CDA66621)
Haydn: Sun Quartets Nos 1, 2 & 3
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Movement 1: Allegro moderato
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Movement 2: Menuetto: Allegretto
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Movement 3: Affettuoso e sostenuto
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Movement 4: Presto
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String Quartet in E flat major, Op 20 No 1
In her BBC Music Guide to the Haydn quartets, Rosemary Hughes memorably described No 1 in E flat major as springing from ‘that central core of tranquillity that lies at the heart of Haydn’s music’. The easy interplay in the opening Allegro moderato, with the instruments nonchalantly swapping roles, is a world away from the violin-dominated first movements in the Op 9 and Op 17 quartets. This movement, too, is a classic example of Haydn’s inspired thematic economy, with the whole varied narrative evolving from the opening phrases. Placed second, as in Nos 3 and 5, the minuet begins with two terse four-bar phrases, one jaunty, the other feline, but then expands with exhilarating freedom in its second part. The quizzical, faintly enigmatic trio, in A flat, unfolds in a three-part texture, with the viola only entering just before the harmonically disorienting lead-back (stressing F minor rather than preparing the home key of E flat) to the minuet.

The jewel of the quartet, some might even say of the entire Op 20 set, is the Affettuoso e sostenuto (‘Tender and sustained’), in the dusky key of A flat: music of self-communing inwardness that unfolds throughout in a hushed, rich, four-part chorale texture, with no discernible ‘theme’ and minimal articulation. There is something strangely elusive about this movement, with its weird interlocking and crossing of parts and quietly audacious dissonances. Mozart would remember it in the Andante, likewise in A flat, of his third ‘Haydn’ quartet, K428. The Presto finale is as economically fashioned as the first movement, drawing its quirky energy from its laconic opening theme (consisting of two three-bar phrases) and a series of syncopations that initiate an exciting sequence of modulations in the central development. Like Nos 3 and 4, the quartet ends in a whisper.

from notes by Richard Wigmore © 2011

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Details for CDA66621 track 4
Recording date
17 December 1991
Recording venue
Holmbury St Mary Women's Institute Hall, Surrey, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Roy Mowatt
Recording engineer
Keith Warren
Hyperion usage
  1. Haydn: Sun Quartets Nos 1, 2 & 3 (CDA66621)
    Disc 1 Track 4
    Release date: November 1992
    Archive Service
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