The Strad issue
A disc for those who prefer a light touch in Haydn
The Leipzig Quartet is working its way through Haydn’s quartets in idiosyncratic fashion. It started in 2009 with the Seven Last Words and has since put together four more CDs, each with three works from different late and early sets. This fifth in the series has three lifted from the middle of op.64. The playing is impeccable, elegant, poised and gentle, and when Haydn lets the players loose on some semiquaver (e) passagework it can be quite thrilling. They scamper splendidly in the first movement of no.3, passing phrases from one to the other, and the hornpipe finale of no.5 is terrific. Textures and balance are admirably clear, a tribute to players and technical people alike.
In short, it is all tremendously well done. Whether it is to your taste depends on how you like your Haydn. I prefer him with colour and vitality, red-blooded. This is Haydn as sophisticated soufflé, so light it seems to hover in mid-air. Every edge is rounded, every contrast is polite. It would fit perfectly in a tea-room, but where are the sheer energy and spirit that pulse through this music? The players even seem wary of getting too loud. The Presto finale of no.5 starts forte in my edition. Theirs may be different, but surely somewhere in the movement Haydn wanted more than Mendelssohn’s tiptoeing fairies.