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String Quartet in F minor, Op 20 No 5
1772; Sun Quartet No 5

'Haydn: String Quartets Op 20' (CDA67877)
Haydn: String Quartets Op 20
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'Haydn: Sun Quartets Nos 4, 5 & 6' (CDA66622)
Haydn: Sun Quartets Nos 4, 5 & 6
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Movement 1: Allegro moderato
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Movement 2: Menuetto
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Movement 3: Adagio
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Movement 4: Fuga a 2 soggetti
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String Quartet in F minor, Op 20 No 5
While the G minor is still relatively neglected, No 5 in F minor, greatly admired by Gluck when he visited Haydn in 1776, has long been a favourite. Like the C minor Piano Sonata written the previous year, the magnificent opening movement recreates the Empfindsamkeit (‘heightened sensitivity’) of C P E Bach in terms of Haydn’s more dynamic, ‘goal-oriented’ style. The sinuous, elegiac main theme is, characteristically, immediately varied, and then recast when it appears in the relative major, A flat. Unusually for Haydn at this period there is a distinct ‘second subject’, initiated by a confident octave leap and then petering out inconclusively. The central development, beginning with a sequential expansion of the main theme, varies rather than truly develops the material. Rigorous thematic argument is reserved for the coda, the most eventful and extended in any Haydn quartet to date. Here the composer wonderfully expands a moment of harmonic mystification in the exposition and then works a fragment of the second theme to an impassioned, even tragic, climax.

The powerful minuet contrasts a strenuous forte statement with a plaintive piano answer which Mozart perhaps remembered in the minuet of his G minor String Quintet. In the second half Haydn prolongs and intensifies the forte statement and enhances the poignancy of the piano reply with a surprise harmonic deflection. After this almost unrelieved emphasis on F minor, the F major trio brings harmonic balm, though with its irregular phrase lengths it is not quite so innocent as it may first seem. F major returns in the limpid Adagio, whose guileless siciliano theme is freely varied with quasi-improvisatory arabesques from the first violin. Of the three fugal finales in Op 20, No 5’s double fugue, based on a common tag used by Handel in Messiah (‘And with his stripes we are healed’) and Mozart in the Kyrie of the Requiem, is the most austerely Baroque in flavour—though a Baroque fugue in F minor would not have modulated as far afield as A flat minor. Haydn here displays every contrapuntal trick of the trade: inversion, stretto (i.e. with thematic entries piling in on top of each other) and, near the end, a climactic fortissimo canon between first violin and cello, all the more dramatic after so much tense sotto voce.

from notes by Richard Wigmore © 2011

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Details for CDA66622 track 6
Recording date
22 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 4, 5 & 6 (CDA66622)
    Disc 1 Track 6
    Release date: November 1992
    Archive Service
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