Haydn: String Quartets, Op. 64/4, 5 (Lark) & 6

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COMPOSERS: Haydn
LABELS: ASV
WORKS: String Quartets, Op. 64/4, 5 (Lark) & 6
PERFORMER: The Lindsays
CATALOGUE NO: CD DCA 1084
The Lark, No. 5, is, of course, the biggest draw here. But No. 6 in E flat (Haydn’s homage to Mozart’s K428?) is, if anything, even finer, with its mellow, searchingly developed opening movement, its exquisitely textured Andante and a finale that matches anything in the London symphonies for wit and polyphonic virtuosity. No. 4, too, is endlessly inventive: the first-movement recapitulation, for instance, is even more radically rethought, making a mockery of textbook ‘sonata form’, while the Adagio has that melodic candour and unsentimental sweetness that are hallmarks of Haydn’s late slow movements.

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As ever, the Lindsays respond eagerly to Haydn’s physical and intellectual vigour and sheer unpredictability. These may not be the most finely groomed performances around, but they yield to none in fantasy and commitment. Listen to leader Peter Cropper’s subtly varied inflections of the Lark’s soaring main theme, and the magical change of colour and mood when the melody appears with a warm, legato accompaniment at the beginning of the development; or the new vistas opened up by the modulation from A major to a deep, rich C major in the Adagio. The Lindsays seem to feel such moments more intensely than such admirable rivals as the Kodály (Naxos) and the Amadeus (DG). At the opposite end of the spectrum, no other group finds such wit and variety in three minuets – in the timing of the upbeats, for example, or in the teasing, graceful violin portamentos in the trio of No. 6. In the finales of Nos 5 and 6 the Lindsays fly by the seat of their pants, with more than one precarious moment. For poise and spot-on intonation you’ll have to look elsewhere. But the Lindsays bring these quartets excitingly alive in a way I’ve rarely heard, whether in the bold, high-adrenalin Allegros or the rapt concentration of the slow movements. Richard Wigmore