Haydn: String Quartets, Op. 50/1, 2, 3

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WORKS: String Quartets, Op. 50/1, 2, 3
PERFORMER: The Lindsays
The Op. 50 quartets have often been seen as a response to the six quartets which Mozart dedicated to Haydn. Perhaps the unusual weight and intensity of some of the minuets are Haydn’s answer to the astonishing minuet of Mozart’s G major Quartet, K387. But there is little of Mozart’s lyricism and harmonic sensuousness in Op. 50, which contains some of Haydn’s most rigorous and obsessively monothematic writing. And nothing could be further from Mozart’s use of the minor key than the austere, acerbic F sharp minor, No. 4, with its harsh sonorities and strange, restive final fugue. Many groups, including the Los Angeles in their fine complete cycle for Philips, seek to smooth and tame the rugged contours of the F sharp minor Quartet. Not so the sinewy, highly strung Lindsays. Their first movement is uncommonly tough and truculent, the rhythms taut, the sonority aptly earthy and ‘stringy’. The cello’s subterranean eruption in the Andante is as shocking as the composer surely intended, while the trio of the minuet has a withdrawn, almost spectral quality that prefigures the mezza voce opening of the closing fugue. The Lindsays are just as colourful and imaginative in the five major-key quartets, with no stroke of Haydnesque wit or poetry escaping them. I have never heard the croaking, bariolage effects that give No. 6, the Frog, its nickname done with such humour and variety (most groups are slightly apologetic here) or the glissandos in No. 5’s finale played with such gleeful relish. Moderation, in fact, is emphatically not for the Lindsays. The wonderful not-so-slow movement of No. 3 has a scherzando lightness and grace that makes other performances seem rather prim, while the Lindsays bring their trademark rapt intensity to the Adagio slow movements of Nos 5 (a magically hushed, dreamy performance) and 6. Until now only the Tokyo Quartet has ever done real justice to Op. 50. But with their Eighties DG recording out of the catalogue, the Lindsays, recorded with characteristic immediacy by ASV, become an unchallenged benchmark. Richard Wigmore