J.Haydn, String Quartets Nos.64/4, 74/3, 76/5,
I first heard the Minetti Quartett in January 2006 at an Embassy Series recital that honored Mozart’s birthday. Afterwards I wrote: “Mozart’s Birthday, but a Minetti celebration” and I haven’t stopped thinking about them, since. A second recital in Washington assured that their excellence was not a fluke but repeatable, and alongside groups like the Quatuor Ébène, the Jerusalem and Jupiter Quartets, and perhaps soon the Acies Quartet, they are among the finest there are, which is saying much in a field that becomes ever more crowded with ensembles the average quality of which we could not have even imagined a decade or two ago.
Now the Minetti Quartet(t) has finally released a record, and it lives up to all the high expectations and more. Appropriate and timely (for his 200th death anniversary coming Sunday), it’s a compilation of Haydn. Intelligently put together—without just grazing over the ‘greatest hits’—they assembled opp.64/4, 74/3, and 76/5 for an hour of music-making of downright exalted levels. Not only is the general mood genial, minute details are thoughtfully, fortuitously applied, which always gives reason to take note with delight at a particular passage or phrasing in these 12 movements.
The chilly sul ponticello two little C minor passages of the Adagio Cantabile e sostenuto (64/4) reminds me of similar effects produced by Rinaldo Alessandrini’s Concerto Italiano. The opening of 74/3 jolts up, hurdling off and away as one might expect from its nickname “The Rider” (Reiterquartett). Truly special is the moment the Minetti players drop to a true pianissimo in the Largo, re-emerging with the slowly shuddering tremolo. Or take the elastic chugging of the eighth notes ine the Presto Finale of 76/5—hands-on and sophisticated in equal measure. Among the many quartet CDs released in 2009 that I’ve heard, this stands out as the most interesting and delightful effort.
The interview in the booklet, in which especially the first violinist comes across as a carefree, happily musical naïf á la Netrebko, doesn’t contribute much to our understanding of the particular quartets or the four musicians behind it… except bring home the point that superficial seriousness is not necessary for great music-making of lasting quality. Not an inappropriate conclusion for the (2009) Haydn year, which is when this disc came out.