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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
String Quartets Op. 74 (1793): No. 1 in C major; No. 2 in F major; No. 3 in G minor, ‘Rider’
The Lindsays: Peter Cropper, violin; Ronald Birks, violin; Robin Ireland, viola; Bernard Gregor-Smith, cello
rec. Holy Trinity Church, Wentworth, England, 21-23 Jan 2003. DDD
ASV GOLD GLD4013 [79:43]

Founded forty years ago, the eminent Lindsays sadly disbanded in July 2005. It has been announced that each of the four players are to go their own separate ways. This is sad news for chamber music lovers but the Lindsays have left behind a legacy of many wonderful recordings. The quartet’s management have stated that, "having devoted the greater part of their professional lives to the Quartet, the members of the Lindsays now wish to explore other avenues and take on new musical challenges. Each member intends to continue a career in performing and teaching."

Enthusiastic and often animated leader Peter Cropper will continue performing as a soloist and chamber musician. Cropper’s plans include complete cycles and recordings of all the Beethoven Violin Sonatas with Martin Roscoe, with whom he has also formed a piano trio with cellist Murray Welsh.

In my opinion there is nothing better in music than the finest of Haydn’s String Quartets. They are not recorded nearly as often as their esteemed reputation deserves; ensembles tend to concentrate on the chamber works of Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert.

The first complete recording of the Haydn quartets, that I am aware of, was from the Aeolian Quartet on Decca between 1972 and 1976. The highly rated complete survey from the Angeles String Quartet was recorded between 1994 and 1999 for Philips and won a prestigious Grammy award for ‘Best Chamber Music Performance’ in 2001. The other main contender is the celebrated digital version of the complete quartets from the Kodály. These were recorded for Naxos over a ten year period. Although not a complete survey the Lindsays have recorded many of Haydn’s quartets for ASV and have demonstrated a special affinity for these scores.

Here we have Haydn’s three Op. 74 quartets. The Lindsays frequently release live recordings of their recitals but this one was set down in the studio; in this case Holy Trinity Church, Wentworth.

Haydn composed the Opp. 71 and 74 sets especially for performance in Johann Peter Salomon’s Hanover Square Rooms in London. The scores are boldly and spaciously conceived with powerful, often orchestral sonorities and virtuoso writing for all the instruments especially the first violin. Haydn uses flamboyant contrasts of texture, register and dynamics. The faster movements tend to be urgent and strenuously argued, reflecting the proximity of the ’London’ symphonies. In both the fast and slow movements Haydn favoured clearly defined, popular sounding melodies that could easily be assimilated by his Hanover Square audiences.

The C major work commences with a lyrical and moody outpouring in the lengthy opening movement. Serious and purposeful playing in this allegro has the music soaring and swooping in temperament, like a bird in a thermal. For all the music’s easy charm this is closely wrought and highly sophisticated. The Lindsays in the second movement offer expressive playing and in the forthright menuetto a lighter mood is expertly caught. In the concluding movement, with its combination of catchy tunes and dazzling instrumental virtuosity, we hear the Lindsays at their best. Fresh and vivacious music-making.

The F major quartet opens with an allegro that here displays the natural spontaneity and enthusiasm of the players. This is an accomplished performance with purity and much finesse in the andante although in the third movement menuetto the playing seems rather disjointed and unsatisfying. The Lindsays are heard at their best in the finale with highly charged and spirited playing.

In the ‘Rider’ the driving and powerful opening movement allegro is given a rhythmic and airy reading. The wonderfully expressive slow movement is interpreted with a certain majesty and in the edgy menuetto the Lindsays offer spirited and dazzling playing. In the finale the galloping rhythms give the nickname of the ‘Rider’ to the quartet. The performance is characterised by sure and alert playing of the highest order.

The accusation is sometimes heard that the Lindsays occasionally sacrificed a highly polished performance in favour of their indubitable enthusiasm and as a consequence episodes of rough playing can occur. This does not apply on this ASV Gold release; their playing is highly accomplished and deeply musical. I certainly would not wish to be without these excellent accounts from an ensemble that has consistently demonstrated a real affinity with the Haydn quartets, often to much critical acclaim.

However my particular favourite recording of the three Op. 74 works is the consistently joyous and spontaneous performances from the sterling players of the Kodály Quartet on Naxos 8.550396.

For those wishing to explore a selection of the Haydn quartets the refined and poetic performances from Quatuor Mosaïques on Naïve are required listening. Mosaïques are certainly the greatest contemporary quartet performing on authentic instruments and are celebrated the world over for their ‘period-style’ interpretations. On the domestic UK recital scene the Chilingirian under the leadership of co-founder Levon Chilingirian constantly impress with their thrilling interpretations and commanding live performances of the Haydn quartets.

A most satisfying sound quality together with really fine booklet notes. The Lindsays are heard at their best with this superb Haydn release. Recommended.

Michael Cookson



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