My first thoughts when I heard disk one of this 21-disc cycle was "Impressive. I hope this this level of brimming invention continues." In performing these youthful works, the Angeles String Quartet played with such deft skill, there was an abundance of dulcet adagios, energetic allegros, and gracious minuets.
For some reason, Haydn doesn't inspire many complete string quartet collections. There is one produced by the Festetic Quartet on Arcana, which I have not heard. And there are many individual discs, some of which are boldly and joyously played. But nothing prepared me for the utter consistency of this set. The players not only demonstrate a thorough knowledge of these pieces – not difficult like Bartók's but not facile either – they also respect the eras in which they were forged. No attempt is made to create nascent scherzos out of the minuets in the later works (although there is sly humor in Op. 76, #2, "Quinten"). The Tokyo Quartet's version of the Opus 76 quartets (Sony SB2K53522), praised highly several years ago, pales in comparison to the Angeles' interpretations. There may be too much faux Beethoven rumbling around the Tokyo's Opus 76, #1: too little difference between successive imitations, too few drops to ppp, too much speed in the Vivaces. Never do you get the sense that the Angeles is trying to impress you with virtuosic plunges or move you to tears with saccharine cantabiles, although both happened to me in their rendition of the Sturm und Drang Opus 20 quartets. They contain passages of quiet warmth, keen doses of hilarity, and yes, nobility. Lots of it.
Copyright © 2001, Peter Bates