James H. North
, March 2010
The Smithson Quartet, resident ensemble in the Smithsonian Chamber Music Society from 1982 to 1996, was at the time the foremost period-instrument quartet in the United States. The ensemble’s playing was always solid, its interpretations conservative, even formal, producing eminently satisfying performances; its CD of Haydn’s op. 77 and op. 103 quartets remains my choice. In these previously unreleased 1986 recordings, the Smithson demonstrates that it understood both ends of Haydn’s œuvre; few groups have made op. 9 and op. 17 so cogent, so much like the mature Haydn. The Moderato (and Andante grazioso) first movements suit the Smithson approach; despite the stately tempos, one never misses having an Allegro opening. Presto finales are taken rather slowly and yet brim with vitality. All repeats are played, except in Menuets da capo. The recorded sound is solid and immediate, capturing every nuance without being too close. For listeners who prefer the greater color and tang produced by more recent period-instrument groups, the warm, sunny playing of the Buchberger complements these Smithson performances but in no way surpasses them. You cannot go wrong by having the Smithson at both ends of your Haydn quartet shelf.