- String Quartets (6), Op. 50, H. 3/44-49
Period performance on a string quartet involves the strings and the bow more than the instruments themselves, which may well date from the 18th century even in the case of modern performances. The London Haydn Quartet, using gut strings and Classical-era bows, is one of the leading groups devoted to historical performances of the monuments of the quartet literature, and this double album is part of a series devoted to Haydn's 68 quartets. They cultivate a light, at times almost fantastical sound that forms an intriguing contrast with the often dense and economical structures of these quartets. Sample one of the quintessential Haydn monothematic opening movements -- say, that of the "String Quartet in E flat major, Op. 50, No. 3" -- for the effect. The players have a really nice way with the languid slow movements, and the wit of the minuets is understated. All these pieces can be played in other ways, but it's worth investigating to see whether these rather sensuous readings click with you. A major attraction is Hyperion's Potton Hall sound, musically appropriate and technically flawless. The proclamation in the graphics that the quartets are "performed from the Artaria edition published in Vienna in December 1787" is less interesting than it may sound; many performances derive from this edition or its successors, which in some respects slightly distorted the four Haydn autographs that remain from the set of six. But this is distinctive and attractive Haydn overall.