The Complete Haydn String Quartets
The Angeles String Quartet
Kathleen Lenski – violin 1
Steven Miller/Sara Parkins – violin 2
Brian Dembow – viola
Stephen Erdody – cello
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: December 2000
CD No: PHILIPS 464 650-2
Although the last of Haydn’s Quartets, the unfinished D minor (Op.103) is numbered 83, there are only 68 such works! This new set does not include Op.51, The Seven Last Words from the Cross, the seven movements of which are numbers 50-56; there’s also the ’missing’ 19-24 (no doubt a set once attributed to Haydn now confirmed as another composer’s), and from the six each of Opp.1 & 2, the Angeles play the nine works that are genuine quartets (i.e. not arrangements) and one termed Op.0 (discovered in the 1930s). These ’10 Early Quartets’ are all in five movements; from the Op.9 set, excepting the two-movement incomplete one, it’s the customary four.
My overview of the Angeles’s new performances (recorded between 1994-99) is that they give lucid, clear-sighted readings that make for pleasing listening. The recordings, with the consistency of having been made in the same place – a church in California – are courtesy of the experienced team of Joanna Nickrenz and Marc Aubort, and report a warm, focussed sound that allows the players to be both mellifluous (using modern instruments) and detailed. With the exception of a change of second violinist (new girl Sara Parkins plays fourteen works) we are offered one group’s view of a canon of music that contains some of the greatest works of the genre, presented with informative notes in a space-saving box and in opus number sequence (play CD 13 before 12 to get Op.54’s six in the published order!). With the same production team and singular recording venue, there’s an attractive wholesome quality to this issue.
The Angeles’s are consistently musical, playing with a lively mixture of urbanity, poise and reflection. Not as searching as the Lindsays (ASV), as characterful as the Amadeus (DG) or as polished as the Italians (Philips), the Angeles are nevertheless immensely likeable, their tempi thoughtfully chosen – fast movements are shapely and articulate, slow ones flow, minuets are attractively equable in pace, which underlines their dance origin and courtly elegance. I also like the players’ teamwork – theirs is genuine chamber dialogue and interplay – but consistently musical though the Angeles certainly are, their moderation in both tempo and (especially) temperament doesn’t always convey the originality and passion of some of the later quartets.
On balance I wouldn’t suggest that any performance here challenges the very finest available for individual quartets. Against this must be weighed the pleasure these dedicated readings give and the convenience of having all Haydn’s Quartets in one box (similar sets are available from Decca and Naxos). Some distracting edits aside, these beautiful-sounding and musically engaging readings – sponsored by The Joseph Haydn Society Incorporated – have in their sincerity and freshness of approach an eminently listenable quality.