Beethoven: String Quartets, Vol. 1: Op. 18/1-3; Vol. 2: Op. 18/4 & 5, & Op. 14/1; Vol. 3: Op. 18/6; String Quintet in C, Op. 29

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: ASV
WORKS: String Quartets, Vol. 1: Op. 18/1-3; Vol. 2: Op. 18/4 & 5, & Op. 14/1; Vol. 3: Op. 18/6; String Quintet in C, Op. 29
PERFORMER: Lindsay Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: CD DCA 1111, 1112, 1113
This is a diligent, spirited and often persuasive survey of Beethoven’s Op. 18 Quartets. However, despite marking a significant advance in terms of overall quality beside the Lindsay’s previous ASV traversals, it would be unrealistic to ascribe benchmark status to these skilfully engineered recordings.

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Op. 18/4 in C minor, the work in which (as one commentator put it) ‘Napoleon bursts into the Classical drawing room’, highlights the best – and indeed the worst – of these readings. First violinist Peter Cropper’s clearly audible sniffs before the beat and occasional intonation lapses are intrusive, but there’s also much to enjoy in playing that’s keenly responsive to every nuance and inflection. Take the scherzo, in which the Lindsay differentiates Beethoven’s notated accents subtly within the bow-stroke, or their carefully gradated dynamic control throughout the gypsy-style finale. There’s palpable mystery, too, with imaginative and atmospheric ‘sul tasto’ playing reserved for the trio of the B flat Quartet’s scherzo, and some intelligently calculated rubato employed at the start of the finale.

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But the Lindsay never attains the sublime control and expressive eloquence, not to mention the spiritual insights, that the Guarneri Quartet recreates constantly in this music. Try and track down its magnificent Philips set, officially out of the catalogue. Otherwise, the fine Naxos performances from the Kodály Quartet are unmatched at budget price. True, its three separate discs provide no additional inducements, but you’re unlikely to miss the quartet transcription of Beethoven’s Op. 14/1 Piano Sonata, and the Kodály regularly eclipses the Lindsay throughout its Op. 18 accounts. Michael Jameson