The Auryn String Quartet provides a fine recording of the seminal Haydn Op.33 complete quartets on a single high-resolution DVD-A.
It took Haydn nearly ten years of concentrating on other musical forms before he began composing his revolutionary Op. 33 quartets in 1781 following his successful Op. 17 and Op. 20 sets in 1771 and 1772 respectively. The Op. 33 string quartets - nicknamed the "Russian" quartets because Haydn dedicated them to Grand Duke Paul of Russia - feature more sophisticated contrapuntal writing, greater autonomy for each individual instrument, a wider emotional palette and increased inventiveness in general. Many consider this set to be the first true "Classical" string quartets because of their greater surface perfection. They had a profound influence on Mozart while he was composing his six "Haydn" string quartets so their historical impact on the genre is incalculable.

The Op. 33 quartets were published by the influential Viennese publisher Artaria and were an immediate bestseller. Amateur string quartets formed in great numbers helping to create a new type of musical performance that would proliferate in the next century: chamber music. In the Op. 33 quartets Haydn combined the most advanced musical techniques with elements of folk music and his own robust rustic humor to create a set whose popularity crossed the boundaries of a vast multicultural empire. This music is accessible, entertaining, sparkling and often quite witty. Three of the quartets have nicknames that indicate just how effervescent they are. The Quartet in G major No.5 is also known as "How Do You Do?", the E flat major No.2 as "The Joke" and the C major No.3 as "The Bird".

The Auryn String Quartet plays this music with self-effacing grace and humor. Their restraint and relatively vibrato-free playing style seems to have been forged in response to the burgeoning historically-informed playing movement. Their touch is texturally light in the service of an overarching musical conception that does justice to the composer. Haydn's vision of music that is both entertaining and enlightening is subtle and stylish. It requires facile technique and intellectual rigor for successful presentation. The Auryn String Quartet, like most modern quartets, struggles with the many difficulties inherent in presenting an "authentic" Haydn style. Nevertheless, their playing possesses an effortless charm that disguises all of that labor and allows Haydn's own inimical voice to emerge. This is a fine recording of one of the enduring musical monuments of the Classical era.

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. The sound is warm and bright with a slight bias towards the treble. The music has a snap and bite that gives the louder passages a zesty exuberance of which Haydn would surely have approved. The fact that all six quartets are on a single disk is very convenient - not possible with SACD and CDs' 80-minute limit.
Mike Birman

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