special box set celebrates the exceptional career of the distinguished
Lindsay Quartet who retired last year from the recital stage
after forty years of chamber music-making.
This was sad news for many in the music world. Fortunately the
much loved Lindsays have left behind a legacy of wonderful recordings
a selection of which are contained in this generous box set.
The thirteen works spanning Haydn and Mozart to Tippett, provide
a good cross-section of the Lindsays repertoire. The set includes a bonus fifth disc of two works recorded
live at their final weekend of concerts at the Crucible Theatre,
Sheffield, in July 2005.
Lindsays were formed at the Royal Academy of Music and take
their name from Lord Lindsay, Vice-Chancellor of Keele University
where the Quartet was first resident. After six years at Sheffield
University they became Quartet-in-Residence at Manchester University.
The Lindsays’ management recently announced 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.”
by the enthusiastic Peter Cropper, they have for some years
become securely established as one of the world’s foremost string
quartets. Their interpretations are rooted in the European tradition
of great quartet-playing handed down by ensembles such as the
Busch and Vegh. Their intensity, spontaneity and communicative
power have made them extremely popular with audiences throughout
members of the quartet use a remarkable set of instruments.
Peter Cropper plays a Stradivarius from the ‘Golden Period’
of 1700-20, Robin Ireland plays an Amati viola c.1630, while
Ronald Birks and Bernard Gregor-Smith were loaned the ‘Campo
Selice’ Stradivarius of 1694 and a Ruggieri cello of the same
quartet’s extensive discography includes complete cycles of
Beethoven and Bartók, and a series devoted to Haydn, Schubert
and to ‘The Bohemians’. In 1984 they received the Gramophone
Award for their recording of the Beethoven ‘Late’ Quartets.
As a long-time enthusiast of the Lindsays, this set proves a
fitting tribute to their art.
I have seen the Lindsays many times and have always thoroughly
enjoyed their recitals. It has been said that they often over-play
and adopt extreme tempi unnecessarily. To be candid their bold
playing can sometimes come across as rough-edged, their intonation
going awry and leader Peter Cropper’s animated style of playing
can become irritating. However, their passionate enthusiasm
and robust vitality is infectious which certainly compensates
for any issues that I have in other areas.
String Quartet in C major ‘Dissonance’ K465
String Quartet in C major, K465 known as the ‘Dissonance’
from 1785 is the first work on the release. The chromatic
opening bars and the obscurity of a definite key, go towards
the production of dissonant effects far in advance of those
experienced in Mozart’s day. The score is certainly ahead of
its time but by today’s standards it hardly sounds dissonant
playing from the Lindsays right from the opening bars. Their
performance is committed throughout but never lacking in subtlety.
They produce an admirable clarity of texture and a vitality
of articulation, especially in the opening movement and the
closing allegro molto. The exceptional performance was
recorded in the Holy Trinity Church, Wentworth in 1997, with
crystal clear sound quality and a respectable balance.
Schubert String Quartet No. 13 in A minor ‘Rosamunde’ D804
The String Quartet No. 13 in A minor ‘Rosamunde’
was the only one of Schubert’s four string quartets published in his lifetime.
Known as the ‘Rosamunde’ the 1824 score reuses themes from Schubert’s incidental
music to the unsuccessful play, which serves throughout as pained
memories of happier times.
Lindsays perform the A minor Quartet with assurance and sensitivity,
communicating the underlying sadness in the score. In particular,
the remarkable second movement andante is played with
real sensitivity and poetry. The Lindsays never linger inappropriately
and resist the temptation to turn the proceedings into a sickly
sweet experience. Recorded at the Bishopsgate Hall in London
in the 1980s the players are closely recorded with a clear and
bright sound quality.
String Quartet in F major
F major Quartet from 1903 is the first of Ravel’s chamber music
masterpieces. Ravel was dismissed by some as a mere Debussy
imitator, however, the benefit of historical hindsight allows
one to compare and contrast the sensuous ‘impressionism’ of
Debussy with Ravel’s classical precision. The score employs
closely related themes in the first, third, and fourth movements
and possesses a unity not often found in multi-movement works.
charm, clarity, and freshness that Ravel was able to infuse
into his unique musical world is marvellously portrayed. I was
especially impressed by the quartet’s ability to consistently
shape Ravel’s shimmering changes of colour and vista. This is
a really fine performance and one that I will often return to.
The sound quality is cool and clear with the players closely
String Quartet in E flat, Op.64 No.6
op. 64 set of six quartets from 1790 were composed for Johann
Tost, who had been a principal second violinist in Haydn’s Esterházy
orchestra. The E flat score demonstrates Haydn’s great variety,
with its dramatic first movement section. The exceptional final
movement includes contrapuntal material with writing of consistent
wit and invention.
believe that the Lindsays are never happier than when playing
Haydn and their contentment shows greatly in this excellently
performed account. The playing of the light and shade of the
opening movement is attractively characterised and in the andante
there is an abundance of expression. The nimble performance
of the menuetto - allegretto is impressive and I especially
enjoyed the swift and vivacious interpretation of the concluding
movement. The recording is clear and natural.
String Quartet No. 6 in F minor, Op. posth. 80
poignant and turbulently charged score serves as a fitting musical
lament to the tragic sudden death of Mendelssohn’s sister Fanny.
One hears the heart-wrenching pain of the composer’s personal
grief. Here Mendelssohn leaves behind the fantasy world of elves,
fairies and visionary landscapes and joins the human race. His
customary sense of emotional restraint disintegrates showing
severe despair and rage.
Lindsays provide a moving, although rather uneven interpretation
of the F minor Quartet. After an uncertain start I became impressed
with the ardent and vital playing, especially in the opening
movement. Their interpretation of the slow movement is tender
and the underlying mood of restlessness and uncertainty in the
finale is well caught. The sound quality is inconsistent
and there is a short episode in track 11 (CD2) where the sound
blurs at around point 04.28.
String Quartet in F major, Op. 96 ‘American’
his stay in America from 1892 to 1895 Dvořák composed some
of his finest works and in 1893 he completed his famous Symphony
No.9 ‘From the New World’. He spent his summer holidays
at a Bohemian colony at Spillville, Iowa where he felt immediately
at home and found great happiness with his fellow countrymen.
Dvořák’s score found instant acclaim and its enduring popularity
is largely due to the lively rhythms, joyful mood, predominant
major keys, appealing themes and a prevailing mood of contentment
Lindsays offer here a joyous performance of the ‘American’
String Quartet. Their expressiveness and rhythmic drive
is most impressive and I particularly enjoyed their buoyant
interpretation of the folksong-like melodies and dance rhythms
in the final movement. The undated recording made at the University
of Cambridge is clear and well balanced.
String Quartet in F minor, Op.95, ‘Serioso’
1810 Beethoven wrote the F minor Quartet Op. 95 for the
Schuppanzigh Quartet who were the resident professional ensemble
of Count Razumovsky, the Russian ambassador to Vienna. The score
was not premičred or published until four years later. Although
Beethoven had achieved the status of the greatest living composer
he was suffering many difficulties: growing deafness, poor health,
frustrations in love, bitter family squabbles, financial insecurity
and fear of the hostilities of war.
subtitle to the work Quartett Serioso is found in the
manuscript and the unremittingly seriousness of the score reflects
Beethoven’s bitter and sombre mood at the time. From the dramatic
explosion of its passionate and furious start, the character
of the music of the first movement is laid before us and continues
as such until the exhausted resignation of its conclusion. The
perceptive Lindsays are very much at home in this work being
able skilfully to negotiate the difficulties of the score. The
players expertly demonstrate the mood of bleakness in the opening
movement and the darkness of the lively scherzo. In the
concluding movement the atmosphere, so evocative of heavy clouds
being scattered by the storm of struggle and then by the sunshine
of victory over despair, is aptly interpreted. Respectable sound
String Quartet No. 2 in D major
wrote two delightful string quartets the composition of which
was prompted by the formation in 1871 of the first professional
string quartet in Russia. Borodin composed the D major score
in an amazingly short time of two months following a trip to
Germany with Liszt. It was written in one of the happiest periods
of Borodin’s life and is essentially a love letter to his wife
score has become tremendously popular and is arguably the most
recognised of the entire string quartet repertoire largely because
of the famous slow movement. The ravishing oriental-flavoured
Nocturne has been given a separate life of its own in
versions for string orchestra as well as in its original scoring.
The captivating melody has been used for a popular song in the
operetta Kismet. In the first and third movements, the
cello and violin engage in an extensive dialogue. It is an easy
picture to imagine of Borodin, the accomplished cellist playing
together, with his wife as the violin.
version has a wonderful easy lyricism that is highly appealing
throughout. I was constantly impressed by their integrity and
they display a steadfast sense of style. The Mendelssohn-like
scherzo is especially well performed. Their lightness
of touch is impressive as is their sense of rhythm. Borodin’s
dialogues between the first violin and the cello are confidently
and tellingly played by Peter Cropper and Bernard Gregor-Smith.
The D major Quartet was recorded in 2002 with a pleasing sound
String Quartet No.1 ‘The Kreutzer Sonata’
The first of Janáček’s
pair of string quartets was inspired by Tolstoy’s famous story,
‘The Kreutzer Sonata’. In the score we encounter
the more emotional and passionate side of love, together with
some of its tragedy. This story had great meaning for Janáček,
who, when he wrote the quartet in 1923 was deeply in love with
a married woman 38 years his junior. Although his love was never
reciprocated, they remained friends and Janáček shared
his deepest feelings through the hundreds of letters he wrote
to the younger woman.
The Lindsays provide
a performance of Janáček’s First String Quartet that displays the
score’s whole gambit of emotions, characterised by sudden juxtapositions
of mood and character. The disorienting effect of these sudden
mood changes vividly expresses the turbulence and irrationality
of the raw emotions involved in Tolstoy’s story. I was especially
impressed with the quartet’s expressive playing in the final
movement, mirroring Janáček’s tragic despair. The recording
is bright, clear and well balanced.
Quartet No. 5 (1990-1991)
The Fifth String
Quartet was commissioned by the Lindsays. Tippett composed it
between 1990 and 1991 with the Lindsays naturally giving the
first performance of the score at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield
in 1992. The two movement quartet was a product of Tippett’s
mid-eighties and provides a contrast to the dense material contained
in his previous quartet.
The two movements
are a mixture of song, dance and quasi-fugal interplay in which
the Lindsays provide an empathic interpretation that is both
exciting and committed. Each movement alternates slow and contemplative
music with faster more assertive episodes that strain towards
affirmation and light. I love the way the Lindsays provide gutsy
and impassioned playing in the dance-like coda section
and the rhythmic chords that end the first movement. The second
movement with its intense bird-song quality is performed with
well judged pace and crisp articulation. The satisfying recording
comes across admirably.
Bartók String Quartet No.6, Sz.114 (1938)
last string quartet heralds a return to simplicity, clarity
and excursions into sardonic humour. Composed in the months
just prior to the outbreak of World War Two it carries an unrelentingly
pervasive sense of desolation and farewell. The traditional
four movement form is adopted and continues the drive towards
a greater tonal and harmonic lucidity in his final decade. It
is among Bartók’s most equivocal statements.
Lindsays perform with conviction, passion and fervent intensity.
Their ensemble is not always flawless but their playing aptly
displays the abundance of mercurial contrasts. In the finale
I love the way they interpret that indefinable sadness that
by the end of the work succumbs to total depression. The sound
quality is most satisfying.
Piano Quintet in A major, D667, ‘The Trout’ (1819)
seminal chamber composition with its sparkling lyricism, vivid
instrumental colour and wonderful thematic development, the
‘Trout’ Quintet represents the pinnacle of Schubert’s
early art. Universally known as ‘The Trout’ or ‘Die
Forelle’ it contains a theme and set of variations from
his 1817 song of the same name. The beloved and delectable ‘Trout’
Quintet is one of the earliest important works in the repertoire
for the piano and four strings and has become the most performed
quintet’s rich textures and lovely melodies create an unforgettable
musical experience. Its celebration of nature’s beauty stems
from a summer trip in the Austrian Alps which inspired the young
Schubert to rework one of his songs into this complex chamber-piece.
Comprising five alternating movements, the ‘Trout’ uses
unique orchestration by substituting a double-bass for the second
violin and gives special emphasis to the piano. It is a joy-filled
score but at the same time contains a serene quality.
Lindsays joined by pianist Kathryn
Stott and double-bassist Leon Bosch - replacing violinist Ronald Birks - immediately communicate the inherent charm
of the score. The joyous and enthusiastic performance is not
always technically perfect, as the strings can sound rough-edged
at times, with an occasional looseness of ensemble. Right from
the opening movement allegro vivace their impressive
playing is frequently enchanting and highly appealing. It would
be hard to imagine the soulful andante, so infused with
nostalgic and wistful tunes, being played with more affection.
The Lindsays unanimity of purpose in the scherzo is impressive
as is the playing in the rippling variations of the fourth movement.
I must highlight Kathryn Stott’s
sparkling playing between points 02.54 to 03.42 (CD 5, track
4) which is simply outstanding. The Lindsays commence the endearing
gypsy-like finale rather tentatively but before long
the performance builds to an abundance of charm. The sound quality
is acceptable and Stott’s piano is well balanced with the strings;
which is not always an easy task.
Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op.115 (1891)
is a singular beauty in the music Brahms wrote towards the end
of his life, compositions of an autumnal melancholy, to which
the clarinet is particularly well suited. Brahms became inspired
by the playing of Richard Mühlfeld the principal clarinettist
of the Meiningen Orchestra. It was during the inspirational
summer holiday of 1891 and his habitual stay in the resort of
Bad Ischl that Brahms composed the Clarinet Quintet and the
four movement Quintet was undoubtedly inspired by and modelled
upon the other towering work in this genre, the Mozart Clarinet
Quintet, K.581, from 1789. The two works share an atmosphere
of serenity, coloured by warm melodies. Furthermore, there is
a wonderful interplay of both solo and concertante functions
among the players. Like Mozart’s score, Brahms also used a set
of variations on an original theme as his concluding movement.
the Brahms the
Lindsays are augmented by the services of clarinettist Janet
Hilton. They are superb at communicating the unparalleled range
of Brahms’ expression; giving this score a sense of completeness.
Hilton’s rich and mellifluous tone shows Brahms’ unrivalled
understanding of the clarinet’s capabilities. In the adagio
she deserves special praise for her expertly controlled playing
through the contrasting moods of tenderness and agitation. At
times one might experience something of a timeless, trance-like
quality, almost like standing outside the world. The sound
quality of is respectable enough and reasonably well balanced.
set offering six hours and fifteen minutes of music serves as
a fitting tribute to the Lindsays’ art.