This warmly recorded, naturally balanced disc is delightful. The Minetti Quartet offers three late Haydn masterpieces, played with plenty of high spirits and, in the slow movements, a fresh songfulness (both Opp. 64's and 76's are marked "cantabile") that's most affecting. There's practically nothing to criticize here. Highlights include the really zippy final prestos of Opp. 64 and 76, and the intense Largo assai of the "Rider" quartet. In the finale of the latter, the group's articulation is a touch clipped in the main theme, and as a result the music doesn't quite speak as it should, but better too much energy than too little. The minuet (really a scherzo) of Op. 76 also is terrific, smooth as silk until Haydn's disruptive syncopation sets in. If you're looking for a very attractive single-disc collection of late Haydn quartets, I can recommend this without hesitation. Playing time is a bit short–under an hour–so there was still room for another full quartet, but if this doesn't concern you terribly, then go for it.
The young Austrian Minetti Quartett follow up their first two hänssler CLASSIC releases of works by Haydn and Mendelssohn with works from the pen of the Grand Master of the String Quartet: Ludwig van Beethoven. Two early works from Opus 18, the 4th in the tragic key of C minor and the 2nd in a serene G major, frame the stormy “Quartetto serioso” op 95 in F minor. The unprejudiced naturalness and the multifaceted articulation of these four musicians is presented to fullest advantage in these expressive works, once again showcasing the outstanding musicianship of this young quartet.
Haydn’s six Op. 20 string quartets are milestones in the history of the genre. He wrote them in 1772 for performance by his colleagues at the Esterházy court and, unusually, not specifically for publication. Each one is a unique masterpiece and the set introduces compositional techniques that radically transformed the genre and shaped it for centuries to come. Haydn overturns conventional instrumental roles, crafts remarkably original colours and textures, and unlocks new expressive possibilities in these works which were crucial in establishing the reputation of purely instrumental music. The range within the quartets is kaleidoscopic. From the introspective, chorale-like slow movement of No. 1 via the terse and radical quartet No. 3 in G minor to the comic spirit of the fourth in D major, each of the quartets inhabits a distinct musical world. For many, this is some of the greatest music Haydn ever wrote. Playing these seminal works is one of the world’s finest young ensembles, the Doric String Quartet.
In 1781 Haydn completed his first new set of string quartets in ten years and, trading on his growing fame, naughtily sold them ‘exclusively’ to three publishers simultaneously, while dedicating them to a Russian Grand Duke. For the latest instalment of their Hyperion series, the period instrument London Haydn Quartet has chosen the 1782 edition published by Schmitt of Amsterdam in which the scherzos of Nos 5 and 6 are printed before the slow movements.
Not many string quartets play on period instruments, perhaps because the public for this music is not familiar with their sound, but also because much of the string quartet repertoire goes beyond the period that these instruments usually cover. The Festetics is one of the few top-rank quartets that does use such instruments, and has focused on the late 18th and early 19th century repertoire - Haydn, Schubert and Mozart - though they have also recorded works by other composers, such as Liszt.
There is a noticeable difference in the sound of this ensemble when comparing it with other quartets. The instruments are more trenchant, the sound is more limpid, and the texture less homogeneous. It is far easier for such an ensemble to create a sound of four instruments interacting, as opposed to a unitary sound that is a mixture of those instruments.