The Haydn Evangelists

By Barry Kempton

At yesterday’s Music in the Park Series concert, the St. Lawrence String Quartet played two string quartets by Franz Josef Haydn (Opus 20, no. 5 and the Emperor Quartet) to open and close their program. Haydn wrote approximately 70 string quartets in his lifetime and is often credited as the father of the string quartet.

In my experience, for every classical music-lover who enjoys the music of Haydn, there seems to be another who is, shall we say, less enthusiastic. Hearing Haydn yesterday played with the passion and energy the St Lawrence brought, I don’t think there were any audience members who left with any doubt that the two quartets we heard are stylish, constantly engaging and indeed playful.

In the pre-concert conversation, it was clear that these are four musicians who love playing Haydn string quartets. I distinctly heard violinist Geoff Nuttall say that they would be happy if Haydn quartets were all they played ever for the rest of their careers. But the real test of their zeal for Haydn is of course in the music making itself. They came through that test with flying colors. Every phrase and every section had a point of view. The music really communicated with the audience and the enthusiastic response of the audience at the end of the Emperor Quartet especially was well deserved. To be fair, their performance of the rest of the program, John Adams’ Second Quartet and Allaqi by Marcus Goddard was pretty convincing too!

If that wasn’t enough, immediately after the concert, the Quartet played through movements of Haydn’s Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross and two movements of the Emperor Quartet for an hour with twenty enthusiastic amateurs. The passion was infectious. Long may it last.