The London Haydn Quartet is conscious of period style, gut-strung instruments are played without vibrato, the lower pitch used at the time these works were first performed is adopted and all sonata-form movements are given both repeats. In Potton Hall the definition of the instruments is admirable, and great clarity is afforded the inner parts of the music. Haydn usually had his Quartets published in groups of six and Opus 64 was sent for publication by Johann Tost (a violinist in Haydn’s Orchestra at Eszterháza) to whom they are dedicated. The accepted numbered sequence is used her (Hoboken’s standard catalogue orders Opus 64 differently) and as the music progresses there is logic to this pattern, the moderately-pace opening movement of No.1 seems like an extended introduction to the whole set.
At once it is clear that when Haydn uses the instruction Moderato, it will be obeyed by these musicians and here a relaxed mood is engendered from the outset. The Allegretto Minuet that follows finds the players equally relaxed – an easy pace is acceptable but rhythm is soft and the dance origin is not at all evident. Unaccountably its symmetry is spoilt since both repeats are made before the Trio but only the first is played on the Minuet’s final appearance. The following Allegro scherzando becomes more of a dance than did the Minuet – a delightful alternative to a slow movement and the final Presto finds the musicians gleeful in swiftness while still achieving absolute clarity.
The surprisingly serious Quartet No.2 (the only one in a minor key) opens with an Allegro spiritoso but this interpretation avoids hurry and the Adagio ma non troppo with its long melodic lines is ideally expressive – absence of vibrato does not hinder sustained nature of the themes. The Minuet is taken broadly, and here, despite a little indulgence in the Trio, the rhythm is much firmer. Again there is a concluding Presto providing the opportunity to impress with lucid detail at pace.
No.3 is a very different Quartet and this is a performance that appreciates Haydn’s witty changes of mood – especially when the calm opening theme is unexpectedly succeeded by a bouncy dance. No complaint about flexibility of tempo being employed here. The slow movement is unexpectedly march-like, an element which is not stressed here. Qualms I may have had about this group’s approach to Minuets were quelled in this delightful reading, given unhurriedly with swinging rhythm and a notably exciting surge into the start of the Trio. Plenty of dash in the final Allegro con spirito too.
Quartet No.4 features fewer of Haydn’s unexpected moments, this account is firm and direct at first but in the Minuet (placed second) I didn’t find the freedom of tempo at all convincing yet the following Adagio cantabile has both beauty and momentum, Catherine Manson giving an occasional modest decoration during repeats and the skipping nature of the Finale certainly suits these players – jolly tunes and the complex inner writing is illustrated with skill.
The ‘Lark’ Quartet is immensely popular and listeners will always be impressed if the debonair Finale is taken very swiftly, here quite fast and precision is admirable, yet it is also a trace staid when set against the slightly less accurate Aeolian Quartet, the exciting Doric version or the whirlwind Lindsays. Altogether the London Haydn Quartet is expressive but solid in the first two movements but again there is an unconvincing Minuet with an enormously slow Trio.
The final Quartet of Opus 64 seems large in scale despite taking the shortest amount of time. The LHQ certainly has its measure – sturdy in the opening Allegro, expressive in the brief Andante and delightfully bright in the humorous Finale, but again the Minuet raises a question. In his autograph, Haydn threw in the suggestion that the Trio might be played again after the restatement of the Minuet when he wrote “Trio la seconda volta, caso mai vi piaceva a replicarlo” (Trio for the second time, just in case you would like to replicate it). This performance provides only one Trio and here I prefer the Doric Quartet (Chandos) which takes advantage of Haydn’s offer, adding octave-higher violin decorations the second time round.
These are thoughtful performances showing the use of period instruments to great advantage but I was uncomfortable with some of the Minuets and feel that this current set does not match the London Haydn Quartet’s commendable recording of Opuses 54 & 55, also Hyperion.