Leoš JANÁCEK (1854-1928)
String Quartet No.1 Kreutzer Sonata (1923) [17:07]
String Quartet No.2 Intimate Letters (1928) [25:01]
Antonín DVORÁK (1841-1904)
Cypresses in G major B.152 (1865 arr. for string quartet 1887) [32:12]
The Lindsays
rec.1991, Concert Hall, Faculty of Music, University of Cambridge
REGIS RRC1361 [74:54]

These recordings were made two decades ago, and have retained their levels of energy and insight. The Lindsays tend to divide opinion, but what is never in doubt is the concentrated level of commitment brought to bear on the repertoire, nor the intensity with which it is communicated to the listener in the concert hall, or on disc. Here the repertoire is all-Czech, both Janáček quartets and the lovely Dvorák Cypresses.

The Lindsays are a touch faster in the first three movements of the Kreutzer Sonata than the Vanbrugh, another British quartet whose re-release I have recently reviewed. They are more overtly expressive, more intense indeed than almost all their compatriots’ recordings. When the composer heard the Woodhouse Quartet play this work, during the General Strike in London in 1926, he damned them with faint praise for their formal, correct playing. What he wanted was the vitality of his favoured interpreters, the Moravian Quartet – who never recorded – but who must have absorbed the requisite levels of drama and drive that would have been denied the Woodhouse. The Lindsays, I suspect, would have elicited warmer praise for their fulsome qualities, their maintenance of a full body of tone, and for their terse march rhythms in the finale where they are not as fast as either the Vanbrugh or the Smetana, preferring to generate momentum at a slower tempo.

The Second Quartet, Intimate Letters, is well paced, and affords considerable pathos and introspection. The third movement is fluidly flexible and the Moravian dance rhythms are well caught in the finale. I especially appreciated the control of quite vertiginous dynamics in the adagio section of this movement, just before the return to the tempo primo.

The Dvorák works are 1887 quartet arrangements of songs penned by the mid-1860s. They’re all delightful, and are well characterised. The terse tremolandi in the fourth are finely integrated, so too the romantic delicacy of the fifth, and the little lurches, delightfully done, in the seventh. But the Lindsays certainly don’t underplay them – listen to the passionate outbursts of explosive energy in the eighth (‘Here in the depths of the forest’).

Excellent engineering ensures that the performances have been well served.

Jonathan Woolf

A concentrated level of commitment and intensity.