The prolific Leipzig String Quartet completes Joseph Haydn’s Opus 17 with the Quartets Nos. 2, 4, and 6 on what is now the twelfth volume of an extraordinary quartet cycle. Once again historically informed playing meets world-class quartet culture, and once again the Leipzig four demonstrate that Haydn’s quartets were masterfully conceived from the very beginning and continue to deserve only the very best treatment.
Less Is More
“Reduction as a Principle” would be a good title for Opus 17. But what richness! Haydn concentrates on only a very few themes and motifs; even in the first movements there is only one of them. How this then is elaborated is proof of the finest geniality. Here we find fragmentations, variations, omissions, and ramifications, and when Haydn develops the theme polyphonically and contrapuntally with itself in the first movement of No. 2, the composer almost grinningly presents his credentials as a genuine master in his field.
More Than Usual
This does not keep him from doing plenty of playing with the expectations of his listeners – for example, with the insertion of an uneven number of measures in an otherwise traditional minuet. The fact that the usual period of dance steps is brought to stumbling by the witty composer may startled listeners of his times out of their comfortability, but today not only experts delight in the Esterházy court composer’s original ideas.
For their Haydn edition the members of the Leipzig String Quartet use bows from the period during which the works were composed. This is noticeable in the smooth tonal delineation and supple articulation that may be said to make these fine works speak and shine. Once again a new chance for us to escape from modern restlessness for a few choice moments!