• Some 21 years separate the composition of two sets of Haydn string quartets recently released on separate labels, offering an opportunity to explore how the composer took the genre from private salon performance to concert hall status.
The exciting, Amsterdam-based Dudok Quartet choose three quartets from his 1772 set, Op 20: 2, 3, 5 (Resonus). Always alert to Haydn’s myriad caprices, they introduce some perfectly placed, sinuous phrasing in the third movement of No 3 in G minor, and real verve and colour in its brilliant allegretto.
There is an elegant poise to the minuet and trio of No 5 in F minor, then aching dignity in the adagio. Quartets 2 and 5 in the Op 20 set end with a fugue, played sotto voce and at breakneck speed, just one of Haydn’s playful innovations so brilliantly captured here by the Dudoks and beautifully recorded.
• The period-instrument London Haydn Quartet tackle the six quartets that make up Opp 71 and 74 (Hyperion, 2 CDs). This set is much more closely recorded; you feel the players are right there in front of you. It’s an exciting, direct sound, which doesn’t always serve the playing well, revealing some harsh edges when the going gets tough, as in the final movement of Op 74 No 1 in C major.
But in comparing the recordings, the difference in the complexity and invention of the music is immediately apparent. Haydn wrote Opp 71 and 74 with London’s 600-seat Hanover Square Rooms in mind, and their bold, declamatory nature is vividly portrayed here. The familiar opening vivace of Op 71 No 3 in E flat major is perfectly animated, and the finale’s waltz irresistible in its Viennese lilt.
• Soprano Lucy Crowe, currently giving a knockout performance in Handel’s Agrippina at the Royal Opera House, burst a few musical preconceptions on Radio 3’s Inside Music last week. Catch it on BBC Sounds.