London Haydn Quartet

Haydn: String Quartets, Op. 33

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The calling card here is the use of an Amsterdam edition of Haydn's Op. 33 string quartets that reverses the order of some of the inner movements. It's never made clear why this edition should get priority over the dozens of others that circulated around Europe, with and without Haydn's consent, but so be it; there are some tempo novelties here that shed some light on how Haydn's music was received, at least in some quarters. There the good news ends. These performances are sterling examples of the kind that gave historical-instrument readings a bad name for so long among ordinary listeners. The problem is not with the Classical-era bows and gut strings that many musicians have applied profitably to Classical chamber music. Nor is it with the lack of vibrato, which done right gives Haydn a brisk, bracing humor. The problem is instead with the total lack of humor and gradation in the music, which is as inexpressive as you will find anywhere. The London Haydn Quartet proclaims itself to have been born out of "a passion for Haydn's string quartets," but the passion is hard to hear, and the group's playing would be more typical of musicians with a background in the terraced dynamics of Baroque music; for the most part they have an inflexible attitude toward dynamics. There may be a market for this among the historical-performance hard core, but even for this leaner in that direction it did not satisfy. Sample well before buying. Even the normally unimpeachable sonics of the Wyastone Estate concert hall get distorted here, with the players unpleasantly closely miked.

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