Beethoven: String Quartet in F minor, Op. 95 (Serioso); String Quartet in E flat, Op. 127

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
WORKS: String Quartet in F minor, Op. 95 (Serioso); String Quartet in E flat, Op. 127
PERFORMER: The Lindsays
Horses for courses. An ensemble would have to be superhuman to show the same high level of insight and musicianship in every single Beethoven string quartet. Although the Lindsays pitch themselves with energy and determination into both these works, the F minor Quartet comes over better – curious, given that when the Lindsays recorded the Beethoven cycle for the first time I felt that it was the other way round. It isn’t just the ferocious intensity that makes this new version of what Beethoven called his ‘Quartetto serioso’ convincing; it’s the way the performers make no apologies for the often weird and unsettling dislocations, and instead relish them. Still, I do miss the tenderness and inwardness they found in the slow movement and the finale’s slow introduction in their first recording. And that’s even more the case in Op. 127, which, for all its strengths, has a tendency to sound dogged and even a little coarse in the fast movements, and earthbound in the great Adagio. The Lindsays’ first version of Op. 127 is much more roundly satisfying, while the Alban Berg Quartet (in its second, live cycle) has all the later Lindsays’ strengths in Op. 95, plus a more concentrated inwardness. Unfortunately, the latter is only available in a multiple-CD set, which makes more refined picking and choosing expensive. With luck it won’t be too long before EMI reissues the classic Busch recordings from the Thirties (still sounding remarkably good), and recommendation will become a lot simpler. Stephen Johnson