Not many string quartets play on period instruments, perhaps because the public for this music is not familiar with their sound, but also because much of the string quartet repertoire goes beyond the period that these instruments usually cover. The Festetics is one of the few top-rank quartets that does use such instruments, and has focused on the late 18th and early 19th century repertoire - Haydn, Schubert and Mozart - though they have also recorded works by other composers, such as Liszt.
There is a noticeable difference in the sound of this ensemble when comparing it with other quartets. The instruments are more trenchant, the sound is more limpid, and the texture less homogeneous. It is far easier for such an ensemble to create a sound of four instruments interacting, as opposed to a unitary sound that is a mixture of those instruments.
This 37-disc box set is the only brand new and fully digital recording of the complete symphonies of Haydn. Performed by the Stuttgarter Kammerorchester (Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra) and conducted by Dennis Russell Davies, the recordings were done live in connection with concerts of the whole cycle. The series received fantastic reviews by the press, and The Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra was awarded the European Chamber Music Prize in 2008. Available at a fantastic price, the set is released to tie in with the 200th anniversary of the composer’s death in 2009.
Classical music is one of the greatest joys in life. Opera on the other hand, is often too melodramatic to stomach. But there is nothing more enchanting than an Aria. On this 2 CD set, Emma Kirkby sings in sweet exultation. Her voice expresses power and agility yet a limpid tranquility. Clarity is the greatest achievement of any musician. With the aid of precision accompaniment on period instruments, shameless perfection is delivered. She soothes the soul longing for beauty. Her marvelous Soprano is rendered on 25 tracks in this eclectic ensemble. If you are a champion of Handel or a devotee of Mozart, you should not hesitate to purchase this CD. Emma Kirkby will have you beaming with delight and pining for more. Surely it will be one of the brightest of your collection.
The Aeolian Quartet's epic cycle, originally released in the Seventies, was one of the gramophone's major contributions to Haydn's cause. Listening to the performances anew I find they have lost none of their freshness: they were based on the latest research, and the playing itself is always intelligent and thoughtful, with Emanuel Hurwitz's sweet-toned violin-playing a great asset throughout. (Misha Donat)