Stephen D. Chakwin
American Record Guide
, April 2001
"Haydn's quartets are among the great accomplishments of our culture. The series here tracks the development of an art form from embryonic status to full and powerful maturity-in a sense every quartet since 1803, when the last of these was written, is either a further development of or a response to what Haydn created. This set makes it possible for $125, more or less, depending on your choice of retailer and your local sales tax, to follow the development of this form (and with it the sonata allegro structure, the underpinning of the classical quartet, symphony, and keyboard sonata) from its beginning to its amazing high points. It is a mind-expanding journey and I recommend it to all. Here are a few observations.
"The quality of the quartets as sheer music is amazing high. The adagio that opens Opus 1:3, written around 1760 when Haydn was 28, is every bit as lovely and impressive as the Andante of Opus 103, written 43 years later. The early works are early in time and in their experimental approach to form, but in musical substance they are the product of a mature and perceptive musical consciousness. It is only by comparison with the radiant power and mastery of Opus 20 (aptly nicknamed the Sun quartets) and those that followed that these are anything other then top-flight works Haydn's music always had a quality of conversation to it -a reflection of the 18th Century of Samuel Johnson, Lawrence Sterne, Benjamin Franlin, and Thomas Jefferson, where discourse was s supreme expression of humanity. What other composer was so articulate in speech? Bach preached and harangued. Mozart sang. Only Beethoven (and, in his quirky way, Janacek) ventured into speech as Haydn did, and neither managed to find the fresh-as-sunrise voice that was effortlessly Haydn's.
"The sheer imagination that is expressed in this music is awe-inspiring. What other composer could write some 66 minuets (there are 64 quartets here, but some of the early ones have more than one minuet-I didn't count minuets!) and 72 slow movements (the quartets plus the slow movements from the Seven Last Words) without repeating himself, running out of ideas, or seeming to get stale? If all we had of Haydn's vast creation was a collection of his minuets we would still have to say that he was one of the greatest of all composers.
"These quartets are like Shakespeare's works. They are full of humanity. Joy, sorrow, wonder, mischief, trickery, high spirits, low humor, awe, perhaps even fear, are here to be found. Like Shakespeare, there is always something new to find, even in a work that you think you know so well.
"The Kodaly players do these works justice. There is no sense of sight-reading. If you listen to these recordings, you will hear what there is to hear in these magnificent works. Other groups can offer more individualized or deeper looks into the music, but those are (usually expensive) refinements of an already excellent standard. The Kodaly players offer a beautiful, mellow group sound and strong but understated, solo personality. They always sound just right for this music and stand up well to repeated listening in ways that more extroverted groups may not."