Haydn: String Quartets "The Haydn Project" (CD review)

Emerson String Quartet. DG 289 471 327-2 (3-disc set).

Was there any composer more cosmopolitan yet so light and bucolic as the prolific Austrian composer Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)? Was there any musician who so thoroughly encapsulated the eighteenth-century, the "Age of Reason," while at the same time infused so much Romantic joy and enthusiasm into his work? The string quartets, of which he wrote a multitude, are as good an example as any of the man's delightful spirit.

The Emerson String Quartet, which with this release in 2001 celebrated their twenty-fifth year together and which they named after the American transcendental poet and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson, continued their quest to record all of the composer's string output, the present collection referred to as "The Haydn Project." In this particular collection, they perform the Quartet in F minor, Op. 20, No. 5; E flat major, Op. 33, No. 2 "The Joke"; G major, Op. 54, No. 1; D major, Op. 64, No. 5 "The Lark"; G minor, Op. 74, No. 3 "The Rider"; D minor, Op. 76, No. 2 "Fifths"; and G major, Op. 77, No. 1.

What's more, the set contains a third, bonus disc that contains an assortment of recordings from the Emerson's previous fourteen years with DG. This extra disc includes short works or excerpts from Mozart, Shostakovich, Dvorak, Ives, Webern, Schubert, Bartók, and Beethoven. It serves as kind of the icing on the cake.

Another nice thing about this particular set is that the players have chosen quartets from among Haydn's earliest to latest groupings. Among my two favorite quartets in the set are the F minor, which leads off the album, and the D major "The Lark." To me, they represent both the humor and the passion of the composer; and, of course, the members of the Emerson Quartet play all of the music eloquently. They may not be the world's greatest string quartet in terms of absolute color and drama, but they make up for it in their obvious earnestness, impeccable execution, and love of the music.

DG's sound is good for this kind of thing, too, nicely detailed through the midrange but slightly laid back, reticent, a little soft at the high end by some standards. It makes for easy listening, but I'm afraid audiophiles may find the treble a tad too rounded off for their taste, preferring perhaps a bit more sparkle, or should I say zing, to the strings. The stereo spread also seems a bit wide for the sonic distance DG provide for the group, but these minor caveats fade into insignificance if one enjoys the Emerson String Quartet's music making.


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

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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 over 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine 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.

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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.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa