The Lindsays – Beethoven 1

String Quartet in F [arrangement by the composer of Piano Sonata in E, Op.14/1]String Quartet in F, Op.18/1
String Quartet in A minor, Op.132

The Lindsays [Peter Cropper & Ronald Birks (violin), Robin Ireland (viola) & Bernard Gregor-Smith (cello)]

Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: 10 June, 2005
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

The first instalment of The Lindsays farewell Beethoven cycle was broadcast live and it also marked the end of BBC Radio 3’s groundbreaking complete traversal of all Beethoven’s works within the course of a single week. With music from 1798, 1802 and 1825 respectively, this opening programme brought together the earliest two works for string quartet – the piano sonata transcription being Beethoven’s own – and one of the very last. Amazingly, given their ever-youthful appearance, The Lindsays have now been playing this music for over 40 years.

The first half found the quartet at less than its best. Despite being Beethoven’s own transcription, the Quartet in F is more an interesting curiosity than a satisfactory work in its own right, its pianistic origins all too evident, especially in the finale. Here it received a workmanlike rather than an inspired performance, at its best in the Allegretto central movement, which was taken at the perfect tempo. Elsewhere there was rather too much in the way of approximate intonation, especially on the leader’s part. Considerably better was the first of the Opus 18 collection. The Lindsays invariably dig deep and here the work’s Adagio was undoubtedly affetuoso ed appassionato, as marked. Elsewhere, especially in the finale, Bernard Gregor-Smith’s pungently characterful cello added a fine rhythmic kick.

However, the evening came wholly alive with the remarkably complete exploration – I use the word deliberately – of Opus 132. The Lindsays great strength, which has endeared the musicians to generations of music-lovers (in much the same way that earlier generation loved the Amadeus Quartet) is their collective ability, despite occasional technical failings, to get to the emotional heart of the music they perform, nowhere more in evidence than in late Beethoven or Haydn slow movements.

There is something deeply inspiring about four human beings, who by dint of sheer hard work and long application, bringing the greatest quartet music ever written fully to life. Indeed it may well be that the element of re-creative struggle is intrinsic to The Lindsays success, especially in this music. Opus 132 was given a remarkably comprehensive traversal, a fully formed interpretation played with the kind of certainties and freedoms only possible when the music has been lived and breathed for many years. At the A minor Quartet’s core, Beethoven’s bleached out “Heiliger Dankgesang” – his thanksgiving for recovery from serious illness – moved flowingly yet spoke with quite remarkable depth and directness, its culmination potently cathartic as both cello and viola dug ever deeper. Similarly, the finale’s zenith ratcheted up a remarkable degree of progressive intensity. No encore was needed and, rightly, none was offered.

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