Daedalus Quartet

Haydn: Six Quartets, Op. 20

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The six string quartets of Haydn's Op. 20 set, dubbed the "Sun" quartets and represented here by an incongruous Icarus watercolor, were closely studied by Beethoven a generation after their composition in the early 1770s. It's not too much to say that they inaugurated the second half of Haydn's creative life (he was 40 when they appeared in 1772) or even the entire historical trajectory of the string quartet as a genre. There is no shortage of recordings of these, and for a young group like New York's Daedalus Quartet they might seem a perilous undertaking, especially in performances, like these, that don't have a specific point to make but fall easily into the middle of the road of the performing tradition. As it happens, this quintessentially American group -- two violinists of Korean background, an Indian-American cellist, and an apparently Anglo violist -- clears and even blows past the considerable hurdles it has set for itself with a superb group of Haydn recordings. Consider the positively joyous quality of the set's three fugal finales, which an audience of the 1770s would have heard not as an exercise in academicism but as a delightful surprise. "Surprise" is the quality the Daedalus captures throughout this set: not in the humorous sense of the "Surprise" Symphony, but simply in conveying the overflowing inventiveness of these pieces without letting the music get away from them. With fine engineering from the Bridge label at New York's Academy of Arts and Letters -- clear and detailed without much close-up noise -- this release bodes well indeed, both for the Daedalus Quartet and for the heart of the classical tradition in the United States, where, though seemingly under constant siege, it always persists. Booklet notes are in English only.

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