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.

JJP

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


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

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.

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.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa