Haydn’s Op.64 quartets were dedicated to Johann Tost, a maverick wheeler-dealer and virtuoso violinist of Haydn’s long acquaintance. These quartets are altogether more assertive and dramatic than those of Op. 50, with virtuoso first-violin parts tailored to Tost’s skills – but in the context of brilliant invention, that transforms mere legerdemain into music of astonishing force and rhetorical boldness: Op.64 No.2 is especially remarkable for its wide tonal reach, and almost orchestral depth of sonority; in the second-movement Adagio, where the first
violin weaves wild, gypsy-style fantasies above the brooding chorale-like theme in the lower voices. Most famous of the Op.
64 set, of course, is the ‘Lark’ Quartet, No. 5, whose gossamer moto perpetuo finale (a Mendelssohnian fairy scherzo avant la
lettre) is a favourite encore piece. But the E flat, No. 6, is at least as fine, with its mellow, intently argued opening movement, its exquisitely textured Andante, and its sonata rondo finale full of instrumental fooling and insouciant contrapuntal virtuosity – a counterpart to the finales in the ‘London’ symphonies.
The Buchberger Quartet has recorded all of the quartets, of which only five or so ensembles have ever done so before. They bring to the new set all the redoubtable qualities of energy and informed enthusiasm which have made previous sets so infectiously popular.