These exemplary performances on a single high-resolution DVD-A provide strong advocacy for the earliest Haydn string quartets.
Haydn's earliest string quartets were probably composed for private performances organized by a Baron Furnberg sometime in the late 1750s, the exact date is unknown. Haydn may have played first violin for this pick-up ensemble. The string quartet as a genre was not yet established and Haydn referred to these early works as divertimenti. One obvious indication that the origin of these works lays in the light-music entertainments of the day are the two minuet movements found in each of these quartets, usually as the second and fourth movements. The resulting five movement works are similar to Haydn’s other divertimenti for different groups of instruments. The Op. 1 and Op. 2 quartets were eventually published around 1765.

This is music that makes few demands on the intellect. The first violin takes the lead and the other instruments follow. Counterpoint is nearly nonexistent and harmony is of the simplest and most appealing variety. Nevertheless, though these quartets are merely meant as an evening's diversion, Haydn is incapable of creating music that is devoid of interest or that doesn't appeal to the listener in some deeply satisfying fashion. The melodies are infectious and beautifully rendered by a young composer of genius. Simple in structure, these quartets are still aesthetically pleasing and endlessly enjoyable. The Op. 1 adagios contain the seeds of Haydn's more dramatic movements found in his later quartets and symphonies. Their opening and closing movements are always energetic and inventive. But it is Haydn's minuets that contain all of the galant grace that made this era in the history of music so buoyant and elegant.

The Auryn Quartet plays this music with an effortless sounding expressiveness and charm. Their restraint and textural clarity appears to be influenced by the modern historically informed playing style. Reflecting the impact of the authentic performance era, the Auryn Quartet plays with minimal vibrato and the musical logic of these quartets seems shorter in length and slightly more staccato in impact. These are exemplary performances that give these rarely heard early works by Haydn their strongest possible advocacy.

The Tacet engineers have created what they call "TACET Real Surround Sound" in which the listener is placed at the center of a circle of music. On this DVD-A the strings surround the listener with a realistic lifelike presence. It is an effective recording method that makes the musical experience that much more immersive and enjoyable. The goal, as always, is to approach the impact of live music and the Tacet engineers have succeeded.
Mike Birman

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