- String Quartet No. 61 in D minor ("Fifths"/"The Bell'/"The Donkey"), Op. 76/2, H. 3/76
- String Quartet No. 62 in C major ("Emperor"), Op. 76/3, H. 3/77
- String Quartet No. 63 in B flat major ("Sunrise"), Op. 76/4, H. 3/78
The Leipzig String Quartet, an ensemble drawn from the ranks of the venerable Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, has recorded music from Mozart to the 20th century for Germany's audiophile MDG label. It took a while to get around to Haydn's quartets, cornerstones of the string quartet repertory, but it has finally done so with predictably expert results in this set of three quartets from Haydn's late and brilliantly economical Op. 76 set. The Leipzigers use period instruments and bows, but they don't generate a strikingly unconventional sound with them; unusually clear articulation in passagework and in the pair of variation sets here is the most noticeable effect. The performances are defined not by the instruments but by a light touch, detail, and overall elegance that run from start to finish. Sample the beautifully sculpted layers of sound in the Minuet of the "String Quartet in D minor, Op. 76/2," which is made to sound almost like a piece of minimalism but still retains the characteristic Haydn humor. And as is often true with MDG the sound is a chief attraction. The quartets were recorded in the Ehemaliges Ackerhaus der Abtei Marienmünster, a former monastery farmhouse that, unlikely as it might seem, provides an exceptional ambience for Classical-era chamber music. There are plenty of other choices for these quartets, but for the combination of brisk, graceful, accurate playing, historical instruments, and superb acoustics there aren't so many.