String Quartets, Op.20 – 1 in E flat; 4 in D; 6 in A
Dudok Quartet Amsterdam [Judith van Driel & Marleen Wester (violins), Marie-Louise de Jong (viola) & David Faber (cello)]
Recorded: 26-28 August 2019 in Studio 1 Muziekcentrum van de Omroep, Hilversum, The Netherlands
Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson
Reviewed: July 2021
CD No: RESONUS RES10262
Duration: 66 minutes
Here is the conclusion of Dudok Quartet Amsterdam’s two-disc presentation of Haydn’s Opus 20 String Quartets, the CD containing Nos. 2, 3 and 5 having been issued in Autumn 2019. There is always much care in ensuring that all inner lines are clearly heard, and this is evidenced in the opening of the First, where first violin is suitably reticent until introducing the second, more positive theme. The use of delicate accompanying figuration is also a feature and there is plenty of subtlety when it comes to phrasing. Sometimes a very personal approach is taken to dynamics; for example in the Minuet (here placed second) Haydn restates his forte marking at bar 40 yet the music is allowed to drop to piano at this very point and the sforzando three bars later is ignored. The following Affetuoso sostenuto flows coolly whereas the finale is amazingly rapid: high repeated violin notes are almost brushed aside in order to allow the lower strands through.
Number 4, with its strong Hungarian influences, is perhaps the most mature Quartet of the set; certainly the musicians take it seriously, achieving rapidity in the opening Allegro molto without appearing to rush. Here is immaculate intonation and there are no tempo manipulations The following variation movement finds each instrument used as soloist – and every player gives a tender representation of Haydn’s muse. Unfortunately, the Gypsies are notably absent from the Minuet marked Allegretto alla zingarese. The Dudok’s tempo is more like Presto than Haydn’s required Allegretto, and the implied Hungarian rhythm is brushed over as the music tumbles hastily forward. This is very unfair to the cellist who takes a reasonable tempo for the Trio, but the scrambled Minuet makes it seem as if he were being over-careful. Sometimes great speed can be used to enhance musical drama; this is so in the Finale, although among the excitement, rhythmic poise is sacrificed. Haydn’s humorously quiet ending, a feature also of Number Two, is very effective because the players make no emphasis, they merely stop playing and the music is gently at an end.
Urgent forward motion without hastiness is a feature of the approach to Number Six, and a Dudok characteristic becomes apparent when linking phrases between melodies are thrown off casually. Another example is found at the cheerful final thought found in the ten bars before the end of the exposition and again at the end of the movement. It is understated as if it were a mere trifle yet this does make interpretational sense. High speeds prevail but this time the Minuet is more stable. Throughout the reading there is always an element of delicacy and attention is caught by daring pace rather than dramatic contrast, in particular the Finale is something of a whirlwind.