以下摘自英國留聲機雜誌（Gramophone）2001年3月號，執筆者Mr. Rob Cowan：
The wonderful and variegated world of Haydn’s string quartets has long been daily sustenance for connoisseurs of musical classicism, and record companies have consistently honoured its worth with enthusiasm, even since the days of acoustically recorded 78s. For our purposes, however, the most relevant comparisons are with the Aeolian Quartet on Decca and the Kodaly Quartet on Naxos. The all- digital Naxos series features performances that are, in the main, musically reliable and technically proficient. But turn back to the 1973-76 Aeolian series and every work becomes an event, every quirk of harmony, rhythm or timing is etched with maximum relish.
Up until now, the Aeolians have had the slimline CD box field very much to themselves, which makes the arrival of this superb new Philips release especially significant. In practical terms, switching between sets can be confusing. Both reproduce the same portrait of Haydn on individual disc jackets, each within the context of an identical jacket design, save that Decca uses a serif typeface printed in black, and Philips, sanserif printed in blue. So if you already have the Aeolian set, but fancy owning both, then beware of unintentionally mixing and matching.
Comparative disc layouts begin to differ from CD 3, and the Angeles omit The Seven Last Words, a work which, beautiful though it is, was not originally written for string quartet. Recordings-wise, Philips favours a warm, open sound, balanced much as you would hear it from the centre stalls in a smallish-size concert hall. Decca’s analogue recordings are closer, dryer, more sensitive to extraneous noise and commonly balanced in favour of Emanuel Hurwitz’s first violin. I like that quality in principle – it’s a clear and intimate sound frame – and the leader bias actually suits the divertimento-style early quartets, but Philips’s more refined engineering makes for less strenuous listening in extended (ie concert-length) sessions. A handful of edits (audible more through headphones than on speakers) are the only blots on Philips’s otherwise immaculate aural landscape.
The 12-year-old Angeles Quartet embarked on their Haydn recording project back in 1994, bringing it to final fruition some five years later. The original team consisted of Kathleen Lenski, Steven Miller, Brian Dembow and Stephen Erdody, with Sara Parkins replacing Miller in 1998. Seventeen of the 67 quartets feature the revised line-up but, to be quite honest, the blend, balance and distinctive aural profile that was already in place by the early 90s was scarcely altered with that one personnel change.
I admire the svelte texture of the Angeles’ pooled sound, their consistent evenness in full chords and the musical like-mindedness of individual players, whether in excited presto s or in shared rubato. As to contrasts in playing styles, think of the relatively smooth-toned Juilliard or Emerson Quartets (Angeles) as compared with the internally differentiated Amadeus Quartet (Aeolian). There are a few textual differences – accompanying figures that fall 1'15'' into the Adagio of Op 0 are played pizzicato by the Angeles and arco by the Aeolians, and an appoggiatura in the first movement of Op 54 No 1 (Angeles) is ironed out to full note value by the Aeolians; other such differences centre primarily on the issue of musical repeats, and in that respect the Aeolians are marginally more generous. The Angeles are generally lighter, faster and subtler in their use of tone colouring whereas the Aeolians’ roster of virtues includes strong (even emphatic) characterisation, consistently flexible phrasing and a more pungent approach to rhythm.
Surfing the set for good sampling points brings us, initially, to the early quartets, where both groups sport some superb first-violin solo work, tastefully inflected with Lenski, more candidly expressive with Hurwitz. A particularly telling comparison is provided by the quietly contrapuntal Minuet of Op 17 No 1, where the Angeles’ seamless legato contrasts against the Aeolians’ near staccato. The exquisite Adagio of Op 20 No 6 is another good place to compare, the Angeles with their perfectly timed pauses, warm cello line and overall restraint set against the more romantic, even rhapsodic, Aeolian. Listening to the first bars of Op 33 No 1 is like eavesdropping on a small gathering mid-conversation, where the cello line gradually gains in urgency. I loved the Angeles’ sotto voce handling of the scherzo to Op 33 No 3: it’s rather more pensive than the Aeolians and marks much more of a contrast with the chirping trio.
Op 50 No 4’s Andante anticipates the dramatic interjections that trouble various late Schubert slow movements. Both groups are effective here, though when the cello marks an expected change of key two minutes or so into the movement, it’s the Aeolian’s Derek Simpson who makes the biggest impact: you can almost see the rosin erupt from his strings. In Op 50 No 5 late Beethoven springs more readily to mind, but there I find the Angeles’ extra speed and restraint more effective. Note how beautifully they negotiate the quiet alternation between upper and lower voices towards the end of Op 50 No 6’s Poco adagio and the sudden blossoming that follows. Then again, Op 54 No 1’s mobile Allegretto second movement harbours the potential to switch from tenseness to lyrical effusiveness, which the Angeles exploit to the full, as they do for the rhapsodising Adagio of Op 54 No 2. Late Beethoven is evoked once more, this time the Cavatina from Op 130.
Beam up around three minutes into the Adagio of the Lark Quartet (Op 64 No 5) and you’ll note how skilfully the Angeles cue a ritardando, while the bracing finale to Op 74 No 3 has just the right degree of bounce to offset all the breathless excitement. The Sunrise Quartet (Op 76 No 4) opens like a spring flower (never more so than in the Angeles’ ecstatically controlled performance) and Op 77 No 1’s cheeky Allegro moderato bounds in with perfectly modulated high spirits.
Whenever I encounter these works en bloc I momentarily wonder if life isn’t too short to bother about any other music. Silly, I know, but the pickings are so incredibly rich. I had originally sorted through my own collection to compare the Lindsays, Amadeus, Vienna Konzerthaus, Quatuor Mosaiques, Pro Arte and Takacs, all of whom have added substantially – and characterfully – to the Haydn quartet discography. All have their value, but in this particular context it really is a head-to-head contest between two ‘complete’ sets similarly presented.
Richard Wigmore contributes detailed annotation, quite different from Lindsay Kemp’s overview for Decca, but just as useful and equally well-written. My own tastes incline towards the Angeles, and primarily to their restrained expressiveness and consistent attention to detail. Philips’s superior recording is another bonus. The Aeolians generate more immediate heat (I mean that as a compliment) but, ultimately, the Angeles’ intelligence and cooler blending pay the higher musical dividends. Personal taste will be a crucial deciding factor, but one thing is for certain: you simply have to invest in one or the other. Fortunately for us, both are competitively priced, though the Decca set is the cheaper of the two.'