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The Art of the Lindsays
CD 1
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
String Quartet in C major, K465 ‘Dissonance’ (1785) [38.15]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
String Quartet No.13 in A minor,‘Rosamunde D804 (1824) [34.05]
CD 2
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
String Quartet in F major (1902-1903) [28.42]
Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
String Quartet in E flat, Op.64 No.6 (1790) [18.37]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-47)
String Quartet No.6 in F minor, Op.80 (1847) [24.49]
CD 3
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
String Quartet No.12 in F major, Op.96 (B.179) ‘American’ (1893) [27.18]
Ludwig Van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
String Quartet in F minor, Op.95, ‘Serioso’ (1810) [20.80]
Alexander BORODIN (1833-1887)
String Quartet No.2 in D major (1885) [28.37]
CD 4
Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
String Quartet No.1 ‘The Kreutzer Sonata’ (1923) [17.15]
Sir Michael TIPPETT (1905-1998)
String Quartet No.5 (1990-1991) [27.57]
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
String Quartet No.6, Sz.114 (1938) [30.41]
CD 5
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Piano Quintet in A major, D667, ‘The Trout’ (1819) [37.53]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op.115 (1891) [39.57]
The Lindsays: Peter Cropper, violin; Ronald Birks, violin (all tracks except Schubert Quintet); Robin Ireland, viola (all tracks except Bartok); Bernard Gregor-Smith, cello
Roger Bigley, viola (on Bartók only)
Kathryn Stott, piano (Schubert Quintet only); Leon Bosch, double-bass (Schubert Quintet only); Janet Hilton, clarinet (Brahms Quintet only)
rec. CD 1 Mozart: Recorded at the Holy Trinity Church, Wentworth, Yorkshire, UK, 27-28 January 1997; Schubert: Bishopsgate Hall, London, UK. No recording date given; CD 2 Ravel: Holy Trinity Church, Wentworth, Yorkshire, UK, 5-7 July 1994; Haydn: Holy Trinity Church, Wentworth, Yorkshire, UK, 26-28 April 1999; Mendelssohn: live, Blackheath Concert Halls, London, UK, September 1988; CD 3 Dvořák: Concert Hall, Faculty of Music, University of Cambridge, UK. No recording date given; Beethoven: Holy Trinity Church, Wentworth, Yorkshire, UK, 25-27 June 2001; Borodin: Holy Trinity Church, Wentworth, Yorkshire, UK, 24-26 July 2002; CD 4 Janáček: Concert Hall, Faculty of Music, University of Cambridge, UK. No recording date given; Tippett: Wigmore Hall, London, UK, 21-23 December 1992; Bartók: Henry Wood Hall, London, UK. No recording date given; CD 5 Schubert and Brahms: live, Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, UK during The Lindsays weekend of farewell concerts, the 29 July 2005 (Schubert), 30 July 2005 (Brahms).
SANCTUARY CLASSICS RESONANCE CDRSB404 [5 CDs: 72:22 + 72:18 + 76:33 + 76:11 + 77:53]

 

This 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.

The 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.”

Led 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 the world.

The 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 year.

The 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.

Mozart String Quartet in C major ‘Dissonance’ K465

Mozart’s 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 at all.

Convincing 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 Schuberts 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.

The 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.

Ravel String Quartet in F major

The 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.

The 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 recorded.

Haydn String Quartet in E flat, Op.64 No.6

The 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.

I 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.

Mendelssohn String Quartet No. 6 in F minor, Op. posth. 80

This 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.

The 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.

Dvořák String Quartet in F major, Op. 96 ‘American

During 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 and happiness.

The 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.

Beethoven String Quartet in F minor, Op.95, ‘Serioso

In 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.

The 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 quality.

Borodin String Quartet No. 2 in D major

Borodin 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 Ekaterina.

The 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.

This 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 quality.

Janáček 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.

Tippett String 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.

Béla Bartók String Quartet No.6, Sz.114 (1938)

Bartók’s 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.

The 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.

Schubert Piano Quintet in A major, D667, ‘The Trout’ (1819)

Schubert’s 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 and recorded.

The 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.

The 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.

Brahms Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op.115 (1891)

There 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 Clarinet Trio.

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.

In 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.

This set offering six hours and fifteen minutes of music serves as a fitting tribute to the Lindsays’ art.

Michael Cookson

 

 



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