String Quartet in D minor, K421; String Quintet in
Lindsay Quartet with Louise
Williams (viola - in K593)
ASV CD DCA 1018 [65'
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I only noticed after having listened, made notes and re-visited this CD that
it bears a production date of 1997, the Quartet having been recorded then,
the Quintet in 1996. But here it is for review in 2000 (albeit still in the
twentieth-century)! Such information doesn't alter the fact that these are
deeply satisfying performances. This is one of a series for ASV that finds
the Lindsays juxtaposing Mozart Quartets and Quintets. The CD booklet lists
three others, the only one I've heard of these (and was very taken with)
is CD DCA 968, which couples the "Hunt" Quartet (K458) with the Oboe Quartet
and Horn Quintet.
I haven't made direct comparisons with other recordings - for instance Quartetto
Italiano (Philips) and, for the Quintet, the Melos Quartet with Piero Farulli
(DG) - because the Lindsays are so compelling on their own terms. Whatever
the merits of other groups (and in the case of those mentioned they are
considerable), the Lindsays bring so much that is memorable and rewarding
that a place for this CD will always be found on my shelves.
I would like to mention the recording quality first. Recorded in two different
churches the sound is remarkably similar: close, vivid and instrumentally
tangible while retaining a sense of perspective. For me this is ideal for
listening en rapport to a few musicians (and much more conducive than the
distant placing of a small group in a large space to fight against excessive
reverberation). So full marks for sound. And for interpretation also. The
Lindsays' renditions are the product of a long-together Quartet, the
give-and-take of real chamber-music performance apparent in every bar: a
collective searching out of the music's structure, harmony and statement.
I like the Lindsays' unhurried way with the first movement of K421 - their
tempo really makes something of decoration and trills. So a musical requirement
is satisfied. So too is an emotional requirement by the musicians' expressive
intensity (underlined by some telling dynamic contrasts which the close recording
does not compromise) that always come from the music itself and the players'
profound understanding of it. Generosity of expression is this group's hallmark,
never superficial. So too is their generosity of repeats: it's comparatively
rare for second halves of sonata-form movements to be repeated as the Lindsays
do here - another welcome interpretative decision. And what a lovely sound
the Lindsays make - again there's nothing superficial about this - from the
brilliance (both in tone and in technique) of Peter Cropper's lead violin
to Bernard Gregor-Smith's rich-toned and attractively rosiny cello.
The Quartet is one of six that Mozart dedicated to the great Joseph Haydn,
it's a thoughtful and, at times, anguished work. These emotions are soothed
by the curves of the slow movement but fuelled again by the severe Minuet
(itself contrasted with a country-dance trio). The concluding variations
(on a theme of courtly elegance but with a melancholic character) are serious
of purpose. This doesn't prevent episodes of rhythmic lilt and optimistic
assertion - that said, like the C minor Piano Concerto (K491) or G minor
Symphony (K550), this minor-key Quartet remains anxious to its close.
Quite where the Quintet comes in terms of greatness I'm not sure. It isn't
the equal of those numbered K515 & 516, and to my ears some of the actual
material lacks real distinction. I do like though the unostentatious way
Mozart develops his less than inspired themes. The Adagio (second movement),
however, is of real stature, not least the wonderful episode (from 3'29")
where Mozart briefly retreats to a rarefied world (how telling Gregor-Smith's
pizzicatos are here). Two versions of the Finale are recorded. The original
begins with a chromatic scale, early prints simplified this: no doubt that
chromaticism wins the day. A CD of outstanding musicianship beautifully recorded.