Beethoven: String Quartet in A minor, Op. 132; String Quintet in C minor, Op. 104

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
WORKS: String Quartet in A minor, Op. 132; String Quintet in C minor, Op. 104
PERFORMER: The Lindsays; Louise Williams (viola)
There have always been performers or ensembles whose wealth of musical insight more than compensates for any technical shortcomings – pianists like Schnabel and Cortot, or conductors like Beecham. The Lindsays belong in that kind of company. All right, leader Peter Cropper’s intonation can waver under pressure, and when things get heated there’s always a tendency for the varnish to blister and crack. But even though this new Op. 132 isn’t quite as roundly rewarding as the Lindsays’ 1987 first recording, the players still have a unique way of leading the ear inside the music, bringing out details and relationships you may not have noticed before. Until I heard this new version I hadn’t realised how the rhythms tease the ear in the second movement – is there an upbeat or not? Listening to the Quartetto Italiano, you may be spellbound by the silky tone, the poised expression, without noticing such rhythmic subtleties at all. The finale here, too, is beautifully shaped and shaded – it isn’t all driving nervous energy. Still, the Lindsays’ first recording is, I feel, more successful as a continuous experience, reaching its climax in a slow movement of extraordinary other-worldly calm. Only the Talich Quartet probes deeper – but on its recording (Calliope) the slow movement eclipses the other four movements. So the Lindsays’ first version remains my top recommendation. However the new disc also offers a fine performance of Op. 104, an arrangement (partly by Beethoven) of the C minor Piano Trio, Op. 1/3 – no serious competition there. Stephen Johnson