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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
String Quartet in D minor Op.76 No.2 ‘Fifths’
String Quartet in C major Op.76 No.3 ‘Emperor’
String Quartet in Bb major Op.76 No.4 ‘Sunrise’
Eder Quartet
Recorded at Casino Zögernitz, Vienna in 1983 and 1984
TELDEC APEX 0927 40824 2 [62.11]

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The end of the eighteenth century were rich years as far as Haydn’s output of string quartets was concerned. The decade of the 1790s alone saw Opp.71, 74 and the six comprising Op.76 of which half are played here. It was also during the time of his composition of the oratorio The Creation, which makes it a rich period indeed. Where Beethoven’s final quartets would be testing to both players and audiences alike (and right up to the present day too), Haydn’s may have tested his players but the music was immediately appreciated by its audiences, so much so that three of them were given nicknames at once. The set of six was dedicated to the Hungarian Count Erdödy. Haydn’s thematic invention never deserted him, surely a sign that he was one of the great composers, who never suffered from burn-out at the end of their creative lives. The first of the three featured on the disc is called ‘Fifths’ because of the opening four notes on the first violin, two pairs of falling fifths, an interval which invites, and gets, the fullest contrapuntal treatment as the movement develops. If the first two movements manifest a tender calm, the minuet (again contrapuntal but this time a protracted canon) attracted the label ‘Witches’ or ‘Nightwatchman’s’ minuet with its rather pallid tensions, while the finale goes off into the realms of Hungarian or Slovenian folk dance.

The central focus of Op.76 No.3 is the famous set of four variations on the Imperial theme, later adopted as the Austrian national anthem ‘Gott erhalte Franz der Kaiser’, which in the course of time was twisted to ‘Deutschland, Deutschland über alles’. As in the case of Wagner, one can’t blame Haydn for being espoused by Hitler years after his death. Apparently it was as a result of hearing the British ‘God save the King’, when he was in London, which inspired Haydn to this music. The start of Op.76 No.4 certainly has a rising, golden timbre to its tuneful start, the sunrise to a bustling day of the ‘Allegro conspirito’.

These are excellent performances by the Eder Quartet, not a group with which I am familiar, recorded nearly two decades ago in Vienna. They are not a group who devolve responsibility onto the first violin alone, both the violist and cellist (none is named in the biography-lacking booklet) seize every solo with eagerness and intensity. There is the occasional hard-toned attack, usually the result of well-meaning enthusiasm, but generally the players are very conscious of style and very sensitive to the mood of the moment. Despite facing tough competition from the excellent recordings made by the Kodály Quartet on the Naxos label, this glorious music is worth hearing as played here by the Eder Quartet.

Christopher Fifield


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