String Quartet in B flat, Op.18/6
String Quartet in E minor, Op.59/2 (Razumovsky)
String Quartet in F, Op.135
[Peter Cropper & Ronald Birks (violin), Robin Ireland (viola) & Bernard Gregor-Smith (cello)]
Reviewed by: Rob Pennock
Reviewed: 16 July, 2005
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
The end of this concert signalled the end of an era, that of an ensemble willing to accord Beethoven – and particularly the ‘late’ string quartets – the awe, passion and spirituality that he requires in performance. In The Lindsays’ stead, the thought of a diet of technically immaculate but emotionally and spiritually challenged modern- or period-instrument Beethoven quartets – or any other composer for that matter – is not an appealing prospect.
The Lindsays approached Opus 18/6 with a clear understanding that this work is imbued with the spirit of the dance. The musicians skipped through the first subject of the opening movement and invested the scherzo with punchy rhythms, while as ever, emphasising sforzando and staccato markings, and they invested the rather naïve first theme of the Adagio with a gentle and touching sway. In the slow introduction to the finale a slow tempo and exquisite dynamic variation was superb, so too the attack in the furious coda. In the first movement of the ‘Razumovsky’ the assertive nature of the first subject was vividly projected, as was the climax of the massive development section. The Molto adagio was taken flowingly with golden tone and the numerous themes clearly delineated but fully integrated into a peaceful whole. More drive and attack would have been welcome in the scherzo, but the finale was fast and sprung and the coda was taken at a hell-for-leather tempo. There was thunderous applause, yet, inevitably, there were intonation problems and not just from the leader, and in the Opus 18 scherzo ensemble was at best approximate.
I have heard The Lindsays play Opus 135 on three occasions and this was regrettably the least successful. In the first movement there was a tremendous sense of communication between the players, but the tempo was too relaxed and the first subject needed more definition. Likewise in the scherzo there needed to be more spring, although the ferocious attack at the end of the trio was magnificent and the finale, while beautifully voiced and varied, lacked the last ounce of concentration and conviction. But the preceding Lento assai was sublime, taken at an almost impossibly slow tempo and incredible control of dynamics. ‘Late’ Beethoven slow movements are the only music that can make time stand still – in this rapt, intense performance it simply ceased to exist.
At the end he audience rose to its collective feet. Although The Lindsays are giving two concerts on 23 July with various ‘friends’, this was a time to reflect on the enormous service and pleasure these performers have given to music and audiences over the last 40 years.