“Monday 16 November, 2009
By John Edwards
At last night’s concert by the Jerusalem Quartet, the opener was Haydn’s late Quartet, op. 77 no. 1. Haydn is a problematic composer. Musica Viva director Carl Vine is always a bit worried when he sees a Haydn quartet on the menu – a worry that I share. All my life I have been told that we underrate Haydn but is that really true? Like Jonson and Marlowe, forever overshadowed by Shakespeare, he will never quite equal Mozart and Beethoven. His music is often given pedestrian performances but no such worry here.”
The above is from the MVA website.
Haydn problematic? Hardly. “…..never quite equal Mozart and Beethoven”? Fair go. He was the man on whose shoulders the later giants stood to reach their own greatness. Haydn was a great composer in all respects, but particularly in his work developing the string quartet into a form that could be taken forward by his successors. To suggest otherwise is to suggest that Keppler was a lesser man because Newton came later. They were both great scientists in their own right, and it would be foolish to attribute to one a finer greatness than the other. Similarly Haydn and those who came after him. And if you really want to understand Haydn’s greatness, listen to all his quartets and piano trios. There is great music there. Simplicity and complexity. The problem is there are few who play Haydn with great skill. IMHO the Jerusalem, for all their qualities, fell short. Why do you suppose so many young ensembles fall apart in competition when tossed an “easy” Haydn Quartet of trio to play?
I have just witnessed another effort. The Navarra at an MVA Coffee Concert. They did not impress at the last Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition (second in a less than impressive field). Their Haydn Op 33 No 6 today was equally unimpressive. Until young quartets learn that the classical period is not “early romantic” and that lightness of touch is vital we will sadly be offered less than entrancing performances of Haydn.
It is possible to get away with a lot when playing big romantic works. But the chips are really down when you pick up the bow to try some Haydn.