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Jens F. Laurson
WETA 90.9 FM Blog, January 2010

Joseph Haydn’s six String Quartets op.20 are the last in his second ‘bloc’ of string quartets. The first bloc consists of the early ‘quartet-divertimenti’ opp.‘0’, 1, and 2 from the late 1750s. The second bloc begins with op.9 (1768–70) and continues with op.17 (1771). The six quartets of opus 20 were written in 1772. Although Haydn does not turn a new page as notably as he will have, writing his next set, op.33 (1781), it is considered a major step from his previous work. His publisher advertised op.20 as the works ‘with which Haydn made his name’ and in his Composer Lexicon from 1812, E.L.Gerber claims that ‘starting with op.20, Haydn appears in his full greatness as a composer of quartets’. That is more or less what Donald Tovey writes, too: from op.20 on, “further progress is not progress in any historical sense, but simply the difference between one masterpiece and the next.”…With the Kodály Quartet (Naxos), it’s almost the opposite. I often, guiltily, love their indulgent individual instances. If you listen to their slow movement (“Poco adagio”) from 20/3, how could you not be seduced by their quasi-orchestral, lavish interpretation (much helped by the resonant acoustic). It sounds endearingly old fashioned. But as a whole, they could use a bit more kick and spice. In terms of languor—which isn’t necessarily the same as slow tempi in either, the Kodály or the Pellegrini Quartet’s case—the latter group just about matches their Hungarian colleagues. The quartet from Freiburg, particularly active in the interpretation of contemporary music, has many qualities, but most of them on the side of gentility. Their beauty is awfully well behaved. There are points where the Buchberger’s gruff veneer and bite seems preferable, even if the swifter moments of the Pellegrini Quartet make the HIP Austrian ensemble sound like they are dragging their feet (Menuet 20/5). A very abbreviated generalization about these groups might read like this: Buchberger—sloppy excitement. Hagen—fast & sublime sonority. Kocian—bland. Kodály—unashamedly indulgent. Pellegrini—diverse beauty. Festetics—grisly ‘authenticity’. Mosaiques—detailed magnificence.

Repertoire, January 2009

au premier rang dans le cadre des interpretations modernes (at the forefront in the range of modern interpretations)

, January 2009

Polished, sympathetic playing of considerable warmth.

The Dallas Morning News, May 1995

That’s where these Naxos recordings—at super-bargain prices—come in. The Kodaly Quartet delivers the smoothest, warmest performances…discover a whole new world of Haydn quartets, sonatas and symphonies…well worth investigating—Lawson Taitte

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