Haydn: String Quartet No. 3, Op. 33 (CD review)

Also, Nos. 1 and 2, Op. 77; Hoffstetter Serenade. Alban Berg Quartet. EMI 7243 5 57541-2.

Chamber music is not as popular with the record-buying public as large orchestral pieces, so understandably music companies in the past used to record less of it. But, on the other hand, with the downturn the economy took some time ago, the record companies now produce more chamber and solo albums than ever. Lower costs involved, I guess. In any case, with music as felicitous as the quartets on this disc and with playing as refined as that from the Alban Berg Quartet, this album should please most everyone.

Most chamber-music fans know everything about the Alban Berg Quartet. Until their retirement in 2008, they were among the best-known, best-loved quartets in the world. Founded in Vienna in 1970, they took their name from the famous Austrian composer (at the suggestion of the composer’s widow). Their playing always exuded a radiant self-confidence, as well as consummate virtuosity, which they demonstrate here.

While Haydn’s output of chamber music was extensive, his String Quartet No. 3, Op. 33, nicknamed “The Bird,” has always stood out among the pack. Like most of the composer’s quartets, this one is really like a miniature symphony, a point the booklet note emphasizes, with the four musical instruments taking on the parts of a larger orchestra, and the four movements structured along symphonic lines. But it’s mainly the character of the music that entices one, the nickname clearly deriving from its birdlike chirping. Interestingly, the later quartets from Op. 77 are not quite as easygoing or beguiling as the one from Op. 33, the later ones seeming more severe, more strictly arranged, and nowhere near as bouncy or engaging. Still, it’s Haydn, meaning all of it is fascinating and fun. 

The collection concludes with the little “Hoffstetter” Serenade, Op. 3, that scholars long thought Haydn wrote (Haydn was himself unclear on whether he had written any of the works in Op. 3; when asked years later he said he thought he had), but musical researchers now definitely attribute the Serenade to Roman Hoffstetter. Who knows what will happen next week. In any case, you’ll recognize the piece the minute you hear it, and you won’t hear it any better than here.

While EMI’s sound doesn’t differ much throughout the four works, it is only No. 3 that the company recorded more recently (if you consider 1999 recent). They recorded the two Op. 77 quartets and the Serenade a half dozen years earlier in 1993-94, and only on this disc did they first see the light of day. In addition, EMI made the recordings live, although you’d only know it by the applause that suddenly erupts at the end of the first work. In any case, the sound is fine, wide and well balanced, a little soft perhaps, given the distance across the ensemble (seeming to indicate fairly close miking), but done up within a realistic acoustic. The sound and the performances make a most-pleasant offering.


To listen to a few brief excerpts from this album, click here:

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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa