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THE OPUS 50

«I tell you, before God, as a gentleman, that your son is  the greatest composer I know…» Such were the remarks  Haydn was reputed to have made to Leopold  Mozart after receiving the six quartets that  Wolfgang dedicated to him. There is no reason to  doubt Haydns sincerity: he truly loved Mozart, both  as a person and as a musician, and whenever possible,  he attended the premieres of the younger  composers new works. The bond between the two  men is unique in history. Haydn was the greatest  living composer that Mozart ever met, and reciprocally,  even if Mozart was a bit more ambiguous,  not being completely uninvolved in the legend of  Papa Haydn which would cause such harm to his  elders posterity. 

Notwithstanding, the encounter with Mozart was,  for Haydn, the cause of a profound self-questioning  as we would say today. From that time on, the master  of Eszterháza would compose no more piano  concertos, already this was not his field, or operas,  a genre to which he had largely contributed heretofore,  nor would he attempt the adventure of the  string quintet, all genres precisely in which Mozart  excelled. But the string quartet was another  matter: it was his favourite genre, the richest, most  elaborate form that he, if not exactly created, at  least defined for posterity. To speak only of the  quartets laid out in four movements, Haydn had  already produced four sets, or twenty-four quartets,  by the time that Mozart offered him his. It is  symptomatic that, after receiving Mozarts offering,  Haydn would publish three new series of six quartets,  one after the other, between 1787 and 1790.  And in those new series, Haydn remains himself  and attains the supreme mastery to which the genre  could aspire in 1790. Thus, the Opus 50 constitutes  musically a key point in the long history of the  Haydn quartet. 

With the present release, the FESTETICS QUARTET has  passed the midpoint in the project of recording the complete Quartets authenticated by the composer  for the great Artaria edition. Thirty-three of the  fifty-eight quartets retained are henceforth available. 

As the outlines of this vast project, the most ambitious  enterprise of the ARCANA catalogue, take shape,  the FESTETICS QUARTET impose themselves as the  ideal interpreters and one of the most eminent quartets  of our time. The approach of sources, performance  principles, the unity of instrumental school  and the homogeneity of the whole determine a  highly developed idiomatic approach. But what is  most fascinating is the magical emotional intensity  of the slow movements and the flexible vigour and  enthusiasm of the fast sections. In comparison, a conventional  interpretation henceforth seems unpolished  and somewhat elephantine: what quartet today,  playing on modernised instruments, can rival with  the FESTETICS on the level of virtuosity, precision of  the ensemble and accuracy?

MICHEL BERNSTEIN  Translated by John Tyler-Tuttle