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Haydn: String Quartets No. 3, Op. 33; Nos. 1 and 2, Op. 77; Hoffstetter Serenade.

Alban Berg Quartet. EMI 7243 5 57541-2.

Chamber music is not as popular with the record-buying public as large orchestral pieces, so understandably music companies record less of it. But with music as felicitous as the quartets on this disc and playing as refined as the Alban Berg Quartet, this disc should do quite well for itself.

Haydn's output of chamber music was extensive, but his String Quartet No. 3, Op. 33, nicknamed "The Bird," stands out among the pack. Like most of the composer's quartets, this one is really like a miniature symphony, a point the booklet note emphasizes, with the four instruments taking on the parts of a larger orchestra, and the four movements structured along symphonic lines. But it's mainly the character of the music that is enticing, the nickname clearly deriving from its birdlike chirping. Interestingly, the later quartets from Op. 77 are not as easygoing or beguiling as the one from Op. 33, seeming more severe, more strictly arranged, and nowhere near as bouncy or engaging.

The collection concludes with the little Serenade from No. 5, Op. 3, that was long thought to have been written by Haydn (Haydn was himself unclear on whether he had written any of the works in Op. 3; when asked years later he said he thought he had), but the Serenade is now definitely attributed to Roman Hoffstetter. In any case, you'll recognize it the minute you hear it.

While EMI's sound doesn't differ much throughout the four works, it is only No. 3 and the Serenade that are more recently recorded (if you consider 1999 recent). The two Op. 77 quartets were recorded a half dozen years earlier in 1993 and are only now seeing the light of day. Moreover, the later recordings were made live, although you'd only know it by the applause that suddenly erupts at the end of the first piece. In any case, the sound is fine, wide and well balanced, a little soft perhaps, given the reach across the ensemble, but done up within a realistic acoustic. The sound and the performances make a most pleasant offering.
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Title Annotation:String Quartets No. 3, Op. 33: Nos. 1 and 2, Op. 77; Hoffstetter Serenade
Author:Puccio, John
Publication:Sensible Sound
Article Type:Sound Recording Review
Date:Jan 1, 2004
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