Haydn: String Quartets "The Haydn Project" (CD review)
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:
William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer
Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.
The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.