Plenty of revelations as this compelling survey reaches volume 17

Leipzig Quarte: Haydnt

The Strad Issue: June 2024

Description: Plenty of revelations as this compelling survey reaches volume 17

Musicians: Leipzig Quartet

Works: Haydn: Six String Quartets op.1

Catalogue number: MDG 307 231-2 (2CDs)

There is a temptation not to take these pieces too seriously, led both by their conventional designation as ‘divertimenti’ and by the opus number that encourages us to think of them as apprentice pieces. Haydn was nonetheless in his early twenties when he wrote them, with 15 years of solid musical education behind him, including a schooling from the Neapolitan composer Porpora, which he regarded as fundamental to his development.

In any case, the Leipzig Quartet lays to rest any notion of immaturity or naïveté in these pieces. Radiance and pathos alike are potently distilled by Stefan Arzberger’s first violin in the Adagio of op.1 no.1. The following Minuet is no less immediately and uniquely Haydnesque than any mature examples of his mastery; the Leipzig brings a 21st-century, urban edge to its rustic portamento and clumping Trio.

Indeed, one of the particular glories of op.1 is its generosity with minuets – two per quartet – and the Leipzig reveals the individual personality of each one, showing that Haydn could use the form as a character sketch no less deftly than the French harpsichordists in their pièces de clavecin. MDG’s typically immaculate recording underpins their gentle gait with plenty of Peter Bruns’s cello; I especially like the contrast between the dewy innocence of no.6’s first minuet and the foxy stealth of the second. Between them, the Adagio is almost whispered into the listener’s ear; but the album is full of such treasures, as any Haydn collection deserves to be.