Haydn: String Quartets, Op. 55, Nos. 1-3

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When asked in an interview why they chose to perform the Op. 55 quartets of Haydn on their premiere Hänssler Classic album, the young Finnish quartet META4 gave an answer that largely reflected convenience. That seems a dubious reason for the formation of any album program, let alone a debut disc. The Op. 55s, while certainly masterworks like any of Haydn's quartets, are not among his most popular and are likely less familiar to listeners. META4 does little to promote the worth of these three quartets. As an ensemble, it plays together with reasonable cohesiveness, generally matching articulation, pacing, vibrato, and dynamics. Interpretively, however, META4 shows its relative youth and inexperience in a reading lacking in any real substance or direction, rather coming across as a mere read-through of the notes. Intonation is not as precise as it should be, especially in the upper register of the first violin. The real problem for META4, though, is the sound quality. Whether it's a result of natural tone, the recording levels, or some combination of the two, the group's sound is greatly unappealing. The violins are bright to the point of being shrill, the viola is largely absent, and the cello is lacking in sufficient depth or warmth, and the four together do not blend in a pleasing manner.

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