CD: Haydn: String Quartets Op 50: The Lindsays

(ASV Gold, two CDs, available separately)

It is hard, after listening to this pair of fresh, lively and intensely musical recordings, to understand why the Lindsays have decided to cease their activities as a quartet this year. There are presumably more discs where these came from still to be released, though whether the group is going to complete its cycle of Haydn's quartets is still not clear. It would be a fitting end to a distinguished collective career that has seen them tackle most of the staples of the classical quartet literature on disc as well as investigating some of the less well-covered areas of the 20th-century repertory, too.

The six quartets of Haydn's Op 50, which were completed in 1787 and dedicated to the king of Prussia, have been regarded as his response to the set of six that Mozart had dedicated to Haydn two years earlier. The music certainly strikes out into unexpectedly dark chromatic territory at times, but there it never attempts to imitate the younger composer's lyrical flexibility. This is always Haydn at his most rugged and no-nonsense. As usual, the Lindsays positively relish the punchy rhythmic shapes and well-mannered phrases, as well as the robust humour that drives so much of the invention.

They have never been a group to put technical finish above emotional involvement in their playing; there is no cultivation of a silky smooth sound or impeccable ensemble for its own sake. If musical truth requires a few rough edges or the odd loose end, that has never bothered them - though on these two discs, those technical imperfections are very few indeed and the intonation problems that have sometimes clouded their playing seem to be firmly in the past. All six performances are wonderfully buoyant, alive to every detail and totally committed; the recording has just the right warmth and degree of resonance. Definitely worth hearing.


Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

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