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Haydn’s op. 50 Quartets may forgo the overt jocularity that made his previous op. 33 set so popular, but you know his sense of humour is undiminished when the first of these later quartets begins with an ending! He not only opens with gestures usually associated with a concluding fall – repeated cello murmurs, sighing higher strings – he then fashions the entire movement out of this meagre material. As Richard Wigmore observes in his exemplary booklet-notes, the op. 50 quartets are ‘music about music: rigorously, obsessively argued, delighting in making much of little.’ Nevertheless, Haydn’s wit continues to work its magic, confounding listeners’ expectations by making mischief with sonata-form conventions and springing surprises such as the bariolage effects that give the D major quartet (no. 6) its nickname ‘The Frog’.

There is plenty to enjoy in these latest performances by the London Haydn Quartet. Their playing is admirably poised, expansive and superbly recorded. They can be a little too urbane at times, especially in the second quartet’s opening Vivace, where they appear to opt for exaggerated refinement over vivacity. However, they do have fun with the gleeful sliding notes of the fifth quartet’s closing Vivace (where Haydn’s sul una corda scoring anticipates Blind Willie McTell!). And they really excel in their attentiveness to the music’s lyrical impulses. Their slow movements are enthralling, from what Richard Wigmore calls the ‘songful charm’ of no. 1’s Adagio through to the almost anguished yearning of no. 6’s Poco Adagio, where Haydn touches the most profound emotional depths.

Graham Lock Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Early Music Today, 2016 - ©Rhinegold Publishing