Now in its twelfth year, the Australian Haydn Ensemble opened its 2024 season with the concert LOVE & DEVOTION string quartets by Haydn, Mozart & Mendelssohn. This program has travelled across Canberra, Berry, Southern Highlands culminating in this concert at the Sydney Opera House.

Artistic Director and Principal violinist Skye McIntosh introduced the program and the quartet, gathered on a podium in front of us in front of the windows of the Utzon Room. Joining Skye on the intimate stage were Alice Evans, guest violin, Karina Schmitz, viola and Daniel Yeadon, cello. What a treat, not only escaping the oppressive humidity of the late summer weekend, but to further escape into a beautiful view of Sydney Harbour.  

Franz Joseph Haydn was one of the pioneers of the string quartet, and we heard a piece that dates back to the 1760s. The program showed the development of the string quartet as a form and how it was updated by Mozart and Mendelssohn into the 19th century. Together the pieces are a celebration of Love and Devotion, a love of the craft of creating music in and for itself. The Mozart selection was written in admiration of Haydn’s mastery, and today are  known as the “Haydn Quartets”.

The Program

Haydn’s String Quartet Op. 20 No. 4 in D Major, unveiled in this performance, showcases the maestro’s brilliance in seamlessly weaving distinct musical elements across its four movements. The opening Allegro Di Molto captivates with its vivacity and dynamism, propelling the listener into a realm of spirited musicality. The second movement, Un Poco Adagio e affettuoso, unfolds as a captivating dialogue among instruments, each contributing to a poignant and expressive musical narrative. The third movement, Menuet alla Zingarese, injects a touch of the exotic with its gypsy-inspired flair. The fourth movement, Presto e scherzando, delivers a delightful and animated conclusion, leaving an enduring impression of musical affection for this new form. 

Mozart’s String Quartet No. 15 in D Minor, K. 421, unfolds with a seamless interplay of instruments, transcending mere call-and-response dynamics into an exultant unity in the Allegro. The Andante gracefully builds a full and elegant sonic tapestry, each instrument contributing to a fluent expression. The Minuetto: Allegretto strikes a delicate balance between sweetness and solemnity, displaying a seriousness with a light touch. The final movement, Allegro ma non troppo, is a testament to Mozart’s mastery. The lead violin takes the spotlight, dedicating and harmonizing with the ensemble, creating a sublime musical center that epitomizes the brilliance of this remarkable composition.

In contrast, Mendelssohn’s String Quartet Op. 12 No. 1 in E-flat major, composed half a century later when he was just 21, radiates a remarkable complexity. Despite his youth, Mendelssohn infuses the composition with a depth that reflects his earnestness and musical sophistication. This quartet, a delightful contrast to the preceding works, takes on added resonance when considering the dedication to an early love interest, his neighbor Betty. The emotional nuances and intricate musical layers showcase Mendelssohn’s precocious talent and provide a unique glimpse into the composer’s personal and artistic journey. 

The Australian Haydn Ensemble’s concert took place in the Utzon Room at the Sydney Opera House on the 18th February 2024.