REVIEWS

Fiona Maddocks, The Guardian

— January 2017 ★★★★★

String Quartets Opp 54 & 55

Haydn wrote the six quartets of Opp 54 and 55 in 1788, by now a celebrated composer across Europe and still opera Kapellmeister at Esterházy. These period instrument players, whose very name declares their affinity for Haydn, excel in the latest in their Hyperion series. Ever spry in fast movements, faultless in dexterity and intonation, they find a special warmth of feeling in the slower moments: the songful Adagio Cantabile of Op 55 No 1, the puzzling, melancholy Andante of Op 55 No 2, the dark, hymn-like first bars of Op 54 No 2’s Adagio, out of which the violin soars in almost improvised, bluesy reverie. Too many pleasures to enumerate. Try for yourself.

Richard Bratby, Gramophone

— January 2017

String Quartets Opp 54 & 55

Is there a greater musical treat than sitting down to listen to a new set of Haydn quartets (well, apart from actually playing them)? The London Haydn Quartet’s period-instrument cycle has reached Opp 54 and 55, and with them, some of the richest and most fantastic of the many treasures that await those who venture off the beaten path of Haydn’s nicknamed and late works.

The London Haydn Quartet engage both head and heart from the very first bar. Take, for example, their sharply characterised opening flourish in Op 54 No 2. It’s part of a larger strategy. Knowing that the gypsy Adagio is something special, they play the opening chorale with a big, throaty vibrato—while violinist Catherine Manson wrings aching portamentos out of her swirling phrases. Yet it’s all, somehow, kept within a logical rhythmic framework—making Haydn’s slow finale feel like the culmination of a single imaginative vision.

Once again, the LHQ find all this spirit while remaining faithful to the letter of the score (they play from a 1789 edition), and with all repeats observed you get plenty of Haydn for your money. In Hyperion’s bright recorded sound the group’s transparent, mostly vibrato-free tone may initially feel chilly; but bear with it. It pays dividends in Op 54 No 3, where Haydn builds his textures around the middle voices: Manson seems to glint and glitter over the top. And again, in the first movement of Op 55 No 2, where the group applies just the right amount of sugar to Haydn’s F minor pill.

Not that these players are unduly fixated on form. There are any number of wayside delights, from the LHQ’s deadpan final pay-off in Op 54 No 1 to their spacious phrasing in Op 55 No 3’s Adagio. In short, these performances offer more with each listening. Booklet-notes by Richard Wigmore complete a very handsome package.

Richard Fairman, Financial Times

— February 2017 ★★★★

String Quartets Opp 54 & 55

Haydn String Quartets Op.54 a nd 55 The London Haydn Quartet (Hyperion) A 1789 playbill for a "professional concert at Hanover Square in London announced a new set of quartets by Joseph Haydn. The composer's latest quartets, Op.54 and Op.55, three works apiece, were designed to satisfy the hungry demand for his chamber music across Europe. With their virtuoso first violin parts, these are quartets primarily for professional performance and the London Haydn Quartet revel in their brilliance and originality. The edgy sound of period instruments may not appeal to all, but the period ebullience of these performances surely will.

Financial Times

David Smith, Presto Classical

— January 2017

String Quartets Opp 54 & 55

As a non-string-player, my own experience of string quartets has been relatively limited; it’s a form I’ve often tended to overlook in favour of orchestral or choral music. This week, though, came an album that couldn’t so lightly be passed over—the London Haydn Quartet’s double-bill of, well, Haydn quartets (the ensemble is, indeed, well named).

There are, of course, a lot of Haydn string quartets to choose from—this double-disc set focuses in on Opp 54 and 55, which show a particular snapshot of Haydn’s style and certain recognisable hallmarks. In these six quartets we hear Haydn at the height of his powers—a successful, sought-after composer, active in the bustling and cosmopolitan environment of 1788 Paris.

One thing that sets these quartets somewhat apart from Haydn’s others is the high tessitura and extrovert nature of the first violin parts—particularly in the first two of Op. 54 and the first of Op. 55. This has fuelled speculation that they were written specially for the violinist Johann Tost, though there’s also a less anecdotal explanation that I personally find more convincing—Haydn was responding, at least partially, to the musical fashions of ancien régime Paris. At this time the preference there was for quartets that exalted the first violinist over the other three players—the so-called quatuor brillant, more of a chamber concerto than a quartet of equals—and while Haydn doesn’t buy into this trend to the extent of sacrificing the interplay of parts that makes his quartets so lively, its influence is clearly audible.

As ever, Haydn uses these quartets as vehicles to explore the potential that the form offers—far from being simply six boilerplate pieces of wallpaper music, they all contain quirks and deviations from the norm that catch the ear and constantly force the listener to revise their expectations of where the music is going. Irregular phrases, discordant minor-key passages, rapid modulations via distant keys, and even dramatic use of silence—all evidence of a composer never content to sit back and rest on his laurels.

Any one of these quartets places a wide range of emotions on aural display, and the set of six is a true tour de force for any ensemble that prides itself on its flexibility—from the boldly confident openings of the A major Op 55 or G major Op 54 to the wistful first movement of the F minor ‘Razor’ quartet and its unsettling, disjointed second movement.

It should come as no surprise that the London Haydn Quartet, who have after all made it their mission to perfect the period performance of Haydn’s quartets (with gut strings as well as a historically-informed mindset), handle all these twists and turns with aplomb. In the three more brillant-leaning quartets the playing-style (especially, of course, from first violinist Catherine Manson) is more extrovert; in the other three the conversational aspect of this endlessly varied genre comes to the fore. Where a rollicking finale is called for (as in the ‘Razor’), there’s a winning combination of precision, lightness of touch and, at the right moments, boisterous fun; elsewhere, in the slow movement of the C major quartet Op 54, there’s a beautiful transition from wistful melancholy (complete with what, to modern ears, sounds very much like a blue-note-inflected motif) to a kind of quiet elation.

A reproduction in the sleeve notes of a poster advertising a performance of these quartets serves as a reminder of their context—we have moved beyond the realm of mere bourgeois amateur private music-making. In these quartets we see some of the early stirrings of the quartet as concert music in its own right. This, I think, accounts for their adventurousness—no longer is this music written to be playable first and interesting second, as might uncharitably be said of some other quartets, but rather the reverse. Haydn is off the leash, and his witty and at times subversive approach to established form is in full flower. A fantastic addition to any chamber music fan’s collection, and an excellent introduction to the genre for those who’ve yet to explore it.

Presto Classical

Peter McCallum, Sydney Morning Herald

— 5 October 2015

Conversation with a master starts with reasonable discussion

Utzon music series. Opera House. September 4, 2015

In a letter to the composer Zelter​ in 1829, Goethe​ described the string quartet as a conversation between four reasonable, intelligent people, and no one fostered that conversation with as much wit and elegance as Haydn.

His 68 quartets provide enough musical richness for a lifetime, but the London Haydn Quartet, initially founded to focus exclusively on this treasure trove, stretched a point by allowing an early work from his one-time pupil Beethoven.

The quartet uses gut strings and classical bowing techniques, and the Utzon Room proved an ideal space to savour the resultant mixture of tonal sweetness, clarity and intelligent articulation.

The conversational and rational character was nowhere better exemplified that the opening of Haydn's Quartet in F flat major, Opus 76, No. 6.

A four-note phrase is played with the conciseness of an entirely rational, if unremarkable, proposition. It is repeated with a slight inflection as though hinting at doubt, repeated again, and before long Haydn has extended the debate into a theme that lasts 72 bars (with repeats).

Even this economy of utterance is not the end of the matter, and he extends the discussion for a further three variations and fughetta. The second movement, a Fantasia, is a remarkable exercise in unexpected changes of key.

In the Menuetto – the third movement – Haydn sardonically constructs the theme of the central section ("alternativo") with nothing more than a descending scale, like a courtly dance in which the performers do nothing but walk elegantly down stairs.

The last movement is full of rhythmic tricks given delightful ambiguity by the precise articulation.

The London Haydn Quartet started Beethoven's String Quartet in G major Op. 18, No. 2, with elegance, transcending this in the finale to introduce some of the elemental energy that the younger composer brought to the classical form.

Haydn's String Quartet in C major, Opus 50, No. 2, had a sense of distracted sweetness and dreaminess in first movement.

The transparency of texture at the start of the second movement, with the theme played by the second violin against quiet staccato from the others, illustrated well the subtlety that can be achieved when returning to the instruments that Haydn conceived the music for.

These were conversations that were not only reasonable but also delightful.

The conversational and rational character was nowhere better exemplified that the opening of Haydn's Quartet in F flat major, Opus 76, No. 6.

A four-note phrase is played with the conciseness of an entirely rational, if unremarkable, proposition. It is repeated with a slight inflection as though hinting at doubt, repeated again, and before long Haydn has extended the debate into a theme that lasts 72 bars (with repeats).

Even this economy of utterance is not the end of the matter, and he extends the discussion for a further three variations and fughetta. The second movement, a Fantasia, is a remarkable exercise in unexpected changes of key.

In the Menuetto – the third movement – Haydn sardonically constructs the theme of the central section ("alternativo") with nothing more than a descending scale, like a courtly dance in which the performers do nothing but walk elegantly down stairs.

The last movement is full of rhythmic tricks given delightful ambiguity by the precise articulation.

The London Haydn Quartet started Beethoven's String Quartet in G major Op. 18, No. 2, with elegance, transcending this in the finale to introduce some of the elemental energy that the younger composer brought to the classical form.

Haydn's String Quartet in C major, Opus 50, No. 2, had a sense of distracted sweetness and dreaminess in first movement.

The transparency of texture at the start of the second movement, with the theme played by the second violin against quiet staccato from the others, illustrated well the subtlety that can be achieved when returning to the instruments that Haydn conceived the music for.

Steve Moffatt, Limelight Australia

— 6 October 2015

Having battled the Grand Final crowds and negotiated Sydney’s newly transformed public transport system on a blistering hot Sunday afternoon, what better way to cool down than with some Haydn quartets?

And not your jovial elegant pieces dashed off as stocking fillers for the more weighty stuff on the programme but two of his finest and most substantial quartets performed by an ensemble which knows its Haydn inside out.

In fact the London Haydn Quartet – violinists Catherine Manson and Michael Gurevich, violist James Boyd and cellist Jonathan Manson, all of whom have flourishing careers outside the group – was formed in 2001 purely with the intention of exploring this composer’s 70-odd quartets and performing them as Haydn would have heard them, using baroque bows and gut strings.

Gradually the works of Haydn’s pupil Mozart crept in to their repertoire and, when they started uncovering the manifest delights of the late quartets, that other pupil Beethoven demanded to be included.

Hence the programme for this latest in the Utzon series – one of the Prussian quartets, the Op. 50 No 2, the sixth from the Op. 76 set and the meat in the sandwich, Beethoven’s second quartet from the Op. 18 set in which he pays tribute to Haydn and Mozart and signals that things are about the change.

The 200-seat Utzon room is the perfect venue to hear the subtle nuances and complexities of period performance.

The first thing you notice with the London Haydn Quartet is the wonderful warmth of tone that gut strings produce on fine old instruments.

There may have been a little extra tuning to cope with the humidity and climatic adjustments inevitable in trans-world travel but it was nothing too intrusive – and well worth the results which displayed all the complexities and characters of a fine vintage wine.

Manson has the deftest of touches but can generate the power and passion when needed and the whole group has spectacular attack and articulation. Their ensemble playing is matchless – witness the skipping song of the Menuetto from the Op. 76 which always calls to this listener’s mind the hopping of hedgerow birds and the sound of church bells. Most importantly they all seem to be having a great deal of fun.

The cheery Beethoven work also opened out like lovingly decanted claret under the bows of this Dutch-British foursome (Gurevich being from Holland).

Intensity, dynamic and attention to detail were all spot-on, Catherine Manson leaning forward in the stop-start allegretto from the Prussian work which closed the programme.

Violist Boyd and cellist Manson provided some exciting low-down grunt to underpin the soaring violins in this premium quality recital.

Martin Duffy, Sydney Morning Herald

— 10 October 2015

Collective passion for repertoire creates intimacy in concert hall

MELBOURNE FESTIVAL
London Haydn Quartet
Melbourne Recital Centre
October 9

Conceived by Richard Tognetti, Haydn for Everyone has been an ambitious three-year project from Melbourne Festival to present the complete string quartets of Joseph Haydn.

Fittingly, this year's conversation begins with the London Haydn Quartet – violinists Catherine Manson and Michael Gurevich, violist James Boyd and cellist Jonathon Manson – a leading period instrument string quartet who formed more than a decade ago with a collective passion to explore this repertoire.

Playing on gut strings with classical bows, they presented three quartets from across Haydn's lifetime that demonstrate his development of the form. Their approach was refreshingly individualised to each in turn – energetic elegance in Opus 17 No 2, darker and more urgent in Op 50 No 2 and with exuberant warmth in Op 54 No 3.

The group's performance style demonstrates impeccably well-resolved agreement to issues of bow placement, speed, articulations and dynamic stress, yet still seems marvellously spontaneous in its delivery. Even in a concert hall environment they manage to create an intimacy that aligns well with the likely domestic origins of these compositions.

At an individual level the ever-secure intonation and impeccable placement of Jonathan Manson's lightly timbered cello continually held interest, alongside their collective revelry in the development of the simplest thematic material, and the unanimity of the lower three strings in support of Catherine Manson's agile violin solo lines.

Over the next two weeks many of Haydn's 68 string quartets are still to be played in diverse venues across Melbourne leaving plenty of Haydn left for everyone.

Suzanne Yanko, Classic Melbourne

— 13 October 2015

The music of Haydn dominates the Melbourne Festival this year, with the imaginative Haydn Open House and the series Quartets at Sunset at the Collins St Baptist Church. Now in its third and final year this homage to Haydn aimed to have fine Australian and international performers present all 68 of the composer’s string quartets – and by the end of the Festival they will have succeeded.

A performance by the London Haydn Quartet at the Melbourne Recital Centre on October 9 was a highlight of this ambitious series (devised by Richard Tognetti). So it was disconcerting to have no program notes other than a page in the Festival booklet naming the three items to be played, with no details. This left the listener playing a distracting game of “guess the tempo” and a little frustrated not to have some information about the context of each work.

Perhaps this was more a problem for the reviewer and it was soon forgotten as the Quartet – violinists Catherine Manson and Michael Gurevich, violist James Boyd and cellist Jonathon Manson – took up their instruments. (These too were surely worth a mention, as the Quartet plays on period instruments, the classical bows and gut strings giving a particularly full sound to the music.) Elisabeth Murdoch Hall played its part, with Manson waxing lyrical about the acoustics – but the audience applause was undoubtedly for the musicians.

The three quartets chosen, rather than simply showing a chronological development, presented three aspects of Haydn’s compositional style. It was a revelation given that the composer is too often in the shadow of the other greats of the Classical period, Beethoven and Mozart.

First was No.17 Opus 17 No 2 (published in 1772), its charm and characteristic Haydn sound convincing me that the first movement was Allegretto (In fact, it was Moderato). The first violin led with a rather embellished theme, giving an early taste of her prominence in all three Quartets. This is not to say that Manson dominated the music; the other three players supported her well but had their own distinctive parts to play – the four achieving the “equal music” of the best chamber ensembles.

Back to No.17: expecting an Andante I heard instead a dance with elegant phrasing lending interest to its simple tune (later, I discovered the marking was Menuetto: Poco allegretto). When the Adagio followed it was slow and quite formal with a lovely reprise. The final movement was spirited and rhythmic, a showpiece for all four players and (at last I judged one correctly!) the perfect finish with a stirring Allegro di molto.

This was the point at which Manson praised the Hall for its “intimacy and warmth”, characteristics which the Quartet infused into the String Quartet No. 37 in C major, Op. 50, No. 2, perhaps the best-known work of the night. Beginning with a lilting theme, it had a number of Mozartian elements, including the beautiful restrained ending of the second movement and the minuet, whose humour was (literally) played up to by the violist. The finale was cadenza-like in its challenge, played very fast and impressively together. Again the first violin set the pace but eye contact and good humour ensured that the Quartet not only kept together but delivered a brilliant ending.

After interval came No.3, Op 54 No 3 (published in 1789), described as having a particularly warm sound. This suited the Quartet which again followed the brilliant lead of the first violin to begin, through a soulful slow movement and another sparkling minuet to a finale that was the perfect showpiece for their virtuosity and sheer joy in music-making. They left us with a new understanding, and even love for the music of Joseph Haydn.

Lucy Jeffery, Seen and Heard International

— October 12 2015

Authenticity Breeds Originality in the Hands of the London Haydn Quartet

 
Haydn : String Quartet in F major, Op. 17, No. 2
Haydn : String Quartet in F minor, Op. 55, No. 2
Haydn : String Quartet in G major, Op. 54, No. 1

The London Haydn Quartet has gained a formidable reputation as one of the leading period instrument string quartets. Their dedication to Haydn and series of Haydn recordings on the Hyperion label also positions them as the principal chamber group specialising in Haydn currently touring worldwide. Such familiarity with their repertoire was evident as they called the quartets ‘friends’ when speaking to the audience at Cardiff’s RWCMD. Because some consider their focus on Haydn narrow, I offer a quote by Friedrich Nietzsche to suggest that such specialism and dedication can only be admired when directed towards a composer of such versatility and range:

So far as genius can exist in a man who is merely virtuous, Haydn had it. He went as far as the limits that morality sets to the intellect.

Picking out the extremes of Haydn’s character, the London Haydn Quartet performed the String Quartet in F major, Op. 17 No. 2, String Quartet in F minor , Op. 55, No. 2 and String Quartet in G, Op. 54, No. 1 .

Haydn composed his F major, Op. 17 No. 2 quartet with violinist Luigi Tomasini in mind. Here, Haydn’s melodic first-violin part is woven into the three other components of the quartet. Employing wit and adding a devilish sense of humour into this piece, the London Haydn Quartet sounded effortless and comfortably (though not complacently) at home.

What was immediately apparent was the excellent communication between each of the musicians. Violinists Catherine Manson and Michael Gurevich, violist James Boyd and cellist Jonathon Manson demonstrated their understanding and appreciation of each other’s styles and tendencies with an intuition that only comes from belonging to a quartet for over a decade. Catherine Manson’s intensity and focus was a stalwart driving force. Her tone resounded with clarity and purity. The two violinists and violist were supported by Jonathon Manson’s unwavering perfectionism. Gurevich was audacious and full of gesture which was mirrored by Boyd. As a quartet the four musicians complimented and contrasted each other stylistically to produce a layered and well-rounded sound.

Generally believed to be Haydn’s best quartet, the Op. 55, No. 2 in F minor (also known as ‘The Razor’) moves from a leisurely first movement into a fast second (contradicting the usual arrangement). In the first movement, the quartet sounded genuinely Baroque. The second offered Jonathon Manson an opportunity to demonstrate his exquisite texture and pitch-perfect exactitude. The third movement relaxes the tension of the previous two, though still makes demands on its players with its contrapuntal inventiveness. In the final movement, the London Haydn Quartet was superb at battling out the F major/minor jostles, along with the return of the remote key of G flat. Ending with a sunny beam of optimistic radiance, the musicians resonated with an earthy richness which was enhanced by their gut stringed instruments.  

The Quartet in G, Op. 54, No. 1 , written with virtuoso violinist Jonathan Tost in mind, was a brilliant end to the evening. Catherine Manson demonstrated her own bravura (her runs were both notably clean and fast) as she took on Haydn’s fiendishly showy writing for first violin. With its constant train-chugging motion steaming ahead, the London Haydn Quartet performed the piece with a natural dynamic emphasis that only an intimate knowledge of the work can create.    

Their style was utterly classical. It consisted of sprightly coquettishness and serious tension. With this simultaneously traditional and progressive voice, The London Haydn Quartet successfully carved out an intimate setting for profound and personal music making to be enjoyed and remembered. Last year the New York Times claimed that: “The musicians imbued both works with myriad details of shading and contrast, and beautifully calibrated phrasing”. From the beginning to end of this concert, the quartet’s passion for Haydn’s string quartets came through just as marvellously. Their enjoyment even sparked enthusiasm amongst the audience.

New York Times

— 22 January 2014

Like a glass of prosecco before a more robust wine, Haydn’s sunny string quartets are often served as an appetizer to a weightier work. But theLondon Haydn Quartet has sought to elevate the status of Haydn’s some 75 string quartets, exploring the many neglected gems of his vast catalog.

A period ensemble that plays on gut strings with classical bows, the group offered a revelatory performance on Tuesday evening at the Morgan Library & Museum’s Gilder Lehrman Hall, presented in tandem with the Boston Early Music Festival.

The ensemble opened the program with an exquisitely rendered interpretation of Haydn’s infrequently performed String Quartet in B flat(Op. 50, No. 1), written in 1787 and dedicated to the cello-playing king of Prussia. The musicians highlighted the mysterious and brooding character of the first movement, which opens with a questioning cello motif. The earthy, warm sounds of the gut strings blended beautifully throughout.

The quartet’s deeply committed music making seemed indicative of a longstanding and nourishing partnership, as the physically demonstrative players were acutely alert to their colleagues’ every gesture.

They brought a more full-bodied sound to the String Quartet in D (Op. 18, No. 3) by Beethoven, who was profoundly influenced by Haydn, often called the father of the string quartet. Like the opening Haydn piece, the Beethoven quartet begins with a few delicate, harmonically ambiguous measures. The work also pays homage to Haydn with the witty, unexpected ending of the concluding Presto, played here with passion and verve.

The musicians imbued both works with myriad details of shading and contrast, and beautifully calibrated phrasing. Barring a few tiny slips, they played with impressive intonation throughout the concert.

They were joined by the clarinetist Eric Hoeprich for Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet in A (K. 581). Mr. Hoeprich’s rounded, mellow tone meshed alluringly with the warm sound of the gut strings. The second movement Larghetto, one of Mozart’s most sublime creations, sounded hauntingly lovely.

Nalen Anthoni – gramophone.co.uk

‘Newly revised and corrected’ is how Artaria proudly announced its 1801 edition of these quartets. Exciting? Not for all scholars today. ‘The editorial approach is heavy-handed, transforming Haydn’s highly articulated style by the addition of ‘convenient’ slurred bowings and numerous extra dynamic markings’, protests Simon Rowland-Jones (Edition Peters). Poor old Haydn; he had personally made the changes.

The London Haydn Quartet, playing period instruments, accept them unreservedly. As may have Donald Tovey, who said, ‘Not even Op 76 is, on its own plane, so uniformly weighty and so varied in substance as Op 20.’ Now an ensemble, unique in collective insight, in tempo-management, articulation of melodic design and assessment of harmonic weight, unfolds the substance. Mostly unconventionally. The first movement of No 3 might jolt, nowhere nearAllegro con spirito. The phrases slowed down are dislocated – and disturbing. Passionate fervour dominates the C minor Capriccio of No 2, warmed by the lyrically moving E flat middle section. Add strange intimations of a threnody in the Minuet of No 5, the adroit zip of thePresto scherzando in No 4, the soft undertones in the fugal finales, sombre in No 5, bright in No 6, and there is simply nothing to support Rowland-Jones’s bewildering assertion that ‘a noticeable lack of character and rhythmic vitality results from following Artaria’s readings’.

Noticeable instead is the singularity of readings from artists who stake a claim on Artaria’s edition; and ignoring preconceived notions courageously accept responsibility for provocative interpretations – of enthralling magnitude.

Zachary Lewis, The Plain Dealer, cleveland.com

— 22 March 2010

Every string quartet worth its rosin plays Haydn. None, though, plays Haydn like the London Haydn Quartet. Where others treat the Classical-period master with deference, these accomplished musicians — violinists Catherine Manson and Michael Gurevich, violist James Boyd, and cellist Richard Lester — have devoted themselves to him wholeheartedly, fulfilling a mission to boost the profile of his vast output for their ensemble. Two hundred years after Haydn’s death, they’re still giving local premieres. In a rare U.S. appearance Sunday on the “Chapel, Court & Countryside” series in Harkness Chapel at Case Western Reserve University, the quartet offered a deeply nourishing sampling of Haydn’s quartets. Listening to three works on their period-style instruments, with the cello and viola seated at the rear, one savored not just the music’s formal perfection but also its humor, lyricism and emotional depth. The first evidence of their intimate knowledge of Haydn came in the A-Major Quartet, Op. 9, No. 6, an early work thought to be a simple entertainment. But if they were considering a lightweight score, there was nothing trifling about their performance. Rather than hang statically, long notes pulsed in glowing arcs. Virtuoso passages sizzled, and familiar themes, draped in fresh dynamics, took on new character with each reappearance. The central Adagio was an absorbing journey on which the road grew steadily darker. Representing the so-called “Sun” quartets was Op. 20, No. 2, a masterful work featuring unusual compositional devices such as unison statements and a weighty slow movement situated early in the piece and linked organically to the Menuet. Living up to Manson’s promise of a quasi-operatic scene, the Adagio as performed by London was a wrenching musical episode, full of startling outbursts, agonized cries, and a dramatic cello line hauntingly enunciated by Lester. From there, the quartet launched without a second thought into the concluding fugue, wielding a singular blend of individual independence and collective unanimity. Before a substantial encore, the London players finished off with the last quartet Haydn completed, Op. 77, No. 2, from 1799. On the program Sunday, it was perhaps the best-known entry. We were treated to a flawless Allegro, featuring an especially vigorous development. Even more fun was the Menuet, whose steep musical hills and valleys the quartet treated to exhilarating surges. But the highlight was the Andante; No other group could hope to render its long-spun melody more purely or smoothly. Coming from the London Haydn Quartet, it was definitive proof that it pays to specialize.

David Milsom, The Strad

— October 2011

“Sensitive and well-judged period-instrument performances of Haydn”

The players of the London Haydn Quartet, formed in 2001, refer modestly in their booklet notes to gut strings and Classical bows, saying relatively little about performing practice., but in this respect they are underselling themselves. These performances are not only emotive and truly stirring, but also hint at a good understanding of what we know of performance at the time of the 1801 Artaria edition they have chosen, with a clean yest warm sound, thoughtful stressing of dissonances, some welcome use of portamento (as in the first movement of op. 20 no. 2) and an intelligent and sparing use of vibrato. Admittedly, some of the spiky articulations in the third movement of no. 4 might not reflect early 19th -century practice and the literal rhythms are unlikely to have much in common with performance in Haydn’s lifetime. Nonetheless, the rich sonorities of the second movement of no. 1 and the overall emotional ardour – as in the second movement of no. 2 – makes these a very fine set of performances, intelligently phrased and sensitiviely recorded. Some of the best Haydn I have heard in a long time.

James Leonard, All Music Guide

This 2007 Hyperion recording by London Haydn Quartet of the six Opus 9 quartets makes the case for the works with performances of rare beauty and great power. Played with classical bows on gut strings and performed from a historically informed perspective, the London Haydn Quartet respects the unity, diversity, and relative intensity of these works. Each separate movement is deftly characterized, from the singing Moderato that opens Quartet No. 1 through the racing Presto that opens Quartet No. 6, but the group also balances each work’s movements so that every quartet forms a coherent whole. Beyond that, the London’s interpretations honor the unique spirit of each work by granting each the appropriate degree of intensity. Compare the Second Quartet’s lithesome Adagio — Cantabile with the Fourth Quartet’s melancholy Cantabile Adagio and note how the players’ phrasing, accent, and emphasis change between the two. Recorded in clear, close but surprisingly reverberant sound, these recordings will please those who already know the works and interest those who don’t.

Geoff Brown, The Times

Gut strings sometimes mean sour intonation, but not with this superb British group. Formed out of love for Haydn, they explore his repertoire with a light touch and kaleidoscopic colours. This second Hyperion survey brings the six op 17 quartets: music of domestic relaxation rather than grand public statements, crammed with subtle pleasures. A set to bring long-lasting pleasure.

Bayan Northcott, Telegraph

Haydn: String Quartets, Op 17

London Haydn Quartet

Hyperion CDA67722, 2 CDs

Playing with gut strings and classical bows, the London Haydn Quartet brings both freshness and depth to the six works that the composer wrote at Esterházy in 1771. One never ceases to be amazed at the range and resourcefulness of Haydn’s contributions to the quartet medium, even in a set as early as Op 17. The players here are alive to the music’s spontaneity, and to the way Haydn crafts such a fertile mix of melody and texture.

Telegraph rating: ★★★★

Volkskrant

— 7 September 2009

FESTIVAL OUDE MUZIEK Utrecht

The London Haydn Quartet honours its namesake with an extrovert, coherent (tr: sharply tuned to each other) sound, which comes close to the sound of a modern string quartet. Especially in the quartet op. 76 no. 5, a work that pares a big internal compression with almost symphonic arches of tension, the foursome gave it everything.

Classic FM Magazine

— September 2009

Classic FM Magazine – 4 out of 5

The canon of Haydn’s mature string quartets in usually reckoned to begin with the op.20 set of 1772; but this splendid recording shows that Op.17 is almost as fine. Some of the writing reflects the skill of Luigi Tomasini, the leader of the orchestra at Esterhaza, where Haydn was employed; elsewhere, the four players are treated equally. Catherine Manson brings a nice rubato to the violin’s flight in the first movement of no.5, and makes the most of the operatic recitative in the Adagio. She and her colleagues find all the seriousness in Quartet No.4, and all the lightness of Quartet No.6, with its witty, throwaway ending. RL

The Times

— 13 June 2009 ★★★★

This second Hyperion survey brings the six op 17 quartets: music of domestic relaxation rather than grand public statements, crammed with subtle pleasures. A set to bring long-lasting pleasure.”

Daily Telegraph

— 10 June 2009 ★★★★

The players here are alive to the music’s spontaneity, and to the way Haydn crafts such a fertile mix of melody and texture.

Gramophone Magazine

— September 2009

These musicians arrest attention by the variety of their bowing and articulation. They lean into notes, swelling and contracting the sound (a sort of messa di voce) to heighten the potential for expression. The first movement of No 2 (Moderato) offers an example of this technique which is allied to discerning part-playing, fine grading of tone and flexible rubato. A very imaginative interpretation.”

David Vickers

— 30 June 2008

5 Star : Haydn – String Quartets Op. 9

Op. 9 (written c.1769) marked Haydn’s emergence as the great pioneer of the string quartet genre. He later wished that these had been his first quartets to be disseminated among the musical connoisseurs and string players of Europe. Two previous sets of quartets had been composed about a decade earlier, but were brief, light works that were functional rather than the inspired and extended explorations we find in Op. 9.These performances by the London Haydn Quartet are marvellous. The group – making its debut recording for Hyperion – achieves a wondrous paradox between individual sensitivity on each line and an overall unity of ensemble. Weightier movements which suggest more symphonic thinking on Haydn’s part are beautifully judged, with a perfect synthesis of elegance, warmth, emotion and taste.

The lyrical largo from No. 3 in G major is a fine example of the quartets shapely playing and exquisitely balanced blend. Livelier quick music and minuets are also done with astonishing brilliance, gracefulness and intelligence. These are highly articulate, subtle and civilized performances.

The players are obviously thoroughly absorbed in the music, and their curiosity in the repertoire is evident in their decision to eschew modern editions and play from the 1790 London edition published by Longman and Broderip. Richard Wigmore’s essay on the music is a perfect match of erudition and readability, and Hyperion’s sound engineering team have done a magnificent job. This is one of the finest Haydn discs I have heard in quite some time.

Julian Haylock, Classic FM Magazine

— December 2007

Hyperion CDA 67611
Haydn Six String Quartets, Op.9
The London Haydn Quartet

The earliest of Haydn’s string quartets were not described as quartets at all but as ‘divertimenti’. Many were originally intended for outdoor performance in the streets of Vienna, often to serenade society ladies at their balconies. The original instrument London Haydn Quartet play with such deep feeling, dynamic subtlety and phrasal sensitivity that even the simplest ideas become things of wonder. Passages of generic cadencing and decoration that often pass by unacknowledged by other ensembles sound utterly magical here, the enhanced expressive flexibility of gut strings revelled in to the full. Without doubt one of the all-time great Haydn quartet recordings.

Richard Wigmore, Gramophone Magazine

— December 2007

Josef Haydn. Six String Quartets, Op.9
Hyperion CDA67611 133′ DDD

Delicacy and nuance which makes the listener a privileged eavesdropper.

Haydn’s Op.9 quartets of c1769 have always led something of a shadow life. The minor mode around this time invariably drew a special rhetorical intensity from Haydn; few would disagree that No.4 is the finest of the set. There are occasional longueurs elsewhere, nowhere more so than in the knit-your-own variations that begin no.5. Compensations, though, abound: say, in No.6′s hunting-style opening Presto; in the sorrowful, Gluckian C minor Aria in no.2; or, more obviously in the entertaining finale, all of which feature far more dramatic interplay than in the first-violin-dominated earlier movements.

The London Haydn Quartet, using gut strings with classical bows, opt to play, controversially, from a 1790 London edition which even lops bars out of the first movements of Nos. 4 and 6. Initially I thought the playing, with its abstemious use of vibrato and limited dynamic range, slightly austere. But I quickly warmed to the pure, glowing sound of gut string played perfectly in tune, and to the ensemble’s delicacy of nuance and sensitivity to harmonic colour, treating the listener as privileged eavesdropper. They take a very broad, ruminative view of the Moderato opening movements of nos 1-4 and while I would have preferred more fire and forward momentum, even a touch of brilliance, in the first movements of nos 2 and 3, in the first movements of nos 2 and 3, the players are always keenly alive to both the smaller and larger shapes of the music. Catherine Manson is a graceful and nimble leader, and the less-favoured lower instruments ensure that accompanying figuration never lapses into routine. And when, in the finales, they have a chance to compete on equal terms, the results are delightfully witty and spirited. Recorded in the warm, sympathetic acoustic of St. Paul’s Deptford, these performances should win new friends for an undeservedly neglected set.

MusicOMH.com

Haydn’s Op.9 string quartets, composed around 1770, roughly a decade after his first attempt at the genre, probably represent the true birth of the medium. On this superb double disc set from Hyperion, the London Haydn Quartet’s playing of the set is intense, passionate and revelatory. It is difficult to imagine finer interpretations of these occasionally formulaic but always melodically colourful works.

The quartet – comprising Catherine Manson and Margaret Faultless on violin, James Boyd on viola and Jonathan Cohen on cello – play on gut strings with classical bows. There is to be found none of the reserve or prissiness that can sometimes characterise period performance. The sound here is bright, resonant and gritty, the lack of vibrato adding a spicy, piquant tang to the ensemble timbre. The bowing is confident; tempi are firm and steady, yet subtle inflections and rhythmic manipulations crank up the drama to breaking point.

There is not one dull passage on either disc; the group fully understand the architecture of each quartet and strive to bring a natural ebb and flow to their playing. At times, one is reminded of Philip Larkin’s glorious description of string playing: “cascades of monumental slithering”. Not that there is no moment of repose: in the Adagio of No.6, a stately violin aria with fluttering, murmuring triplet accompaniment, one cannot help but bask in the gloriously lyrical, graceful violin solo, by turn searing and withdrawn, brushed with flecks of glinting portamento.

Quartet No.4 is perhaps the most famous of the set – possibly the first of the six to be written (consequently it’s the first work on the CD) and Haydn’s first quartet in the minor key. Here, the group’s vibrato-less sound gains an eerie, strangely nocturnal quality. Their expressive range is great, with large dynamic and textural palates; Haydn’s stuttering, sighing melodic lines and rhythms are carefully, confidently laid out. And the players know when to hold back too: the Presto’s contrapuntal opening is subtly, not ostentatiously, virtuosic, while the development section’s arpeggiated staccato passages eagerly and successfully balance raucous comedy with sad resignation.

The trend continues, every performance a minor masterpiece of deft, dramatic playing. Hyperion have recorded the performances in clear, clean (if not luxurious) sound, with each string line bright and carefully balanced and no extraneous noise present. Richard Wigmore’s concise, thoughtful programme note can only add to appreciation of these fine works.