Back in 2009 I tried to give a rather thorough account of my “ascent of the Mount Haydn of the Brilliant Classics Haydn Edition.” Indeed, the timing was such that I reached my “final base camp” on the 200th anniversary of Joseph Haydn’s death. Nevertheless, while recognizing that a Gesamtwerk collection would have been a formidable (if not unrealistic) effort, I still had to take Brilliant to task for delivering what turned out to be a far more frustrating tribute to Haydn than the collections they had prepared for Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Johannes Brahms. Perhaps the greatest frustration was the lack of a complete account of Haydn’s string quartets.
Last month I finally decided to bite the bullet and spend some birthday present money on the separate Brilliant Classics box of the complete Haydn quartets. The ensemble is the same, the Buchberger Quartet; and, through this collection, one now sees that the Haydn Edition was exactly three CDs shy of including all the quartets. This might seem like going to a lot of work to make up the difference. However, while the Haydn Edition took a rather jumbled approach to ordering the quartets, the complete box pretty much sticks to the order of the Hoboken catalog. The only major exception is that the string quartet version of Die sieben letzten Worte unseres Erlösers am Kreuze (Hoboken III/50–56) is saved for the final CD in the collection. Thus the complete collection is more suitable for diachronic listening, which distinguishes it from most of the other Brilliant collections.
Is this trip really necessary? Personally, I feel that a “listening understanding” of Haydn’s quartets is as important as that of Beethoven’s quartets, even if, at first blush, the early Haydn quartets seem far more innocuous than Beethoven’s Opus 18 collection. Indeed, if I am going to consider early efforts, I would probably choose Haydn over Mozart, perhaps because a diachronic approach to the Haydn quartets tells us more about his “working biography” than the Mozart quartets do. On the other hand I may just be making excuses for myself, but it was a matter of spending gift money!