WORKS: String Quartets, Op. 76/4, 5, 6
PERFORMER: Lindsay Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: CD DCA 1077
The six quartets of Op. 76 are the apotheosis of Haydn’s work in the genre that he evolved almost single-handedly. And with these new offerings from the Lindsay and the Mosaïques Quartets – for my money the two finest Haydn ensembles around – we now have two sets that do this glorious music full justice. Both groups give performances of real flair, marrying inventive, spontaneous-sounding phrasing with a strong sense of organic growth. Of the two, the Lindsay, completing its survey of Op. 76 with Nos 4-6, is the more rugged and assertive in the faster movements, and with daringly expansive tempi distils a Beethovenian awe and gravitas in the slow movements. In the sublime F sharp Largo e mesto of No. 5 the tempo seems almost to lean backwards: yet the Lindsay, with its concentrated intensity of line and minute sensitivity to harmonic flux, brings it off magnificently.
The Mosaïques, playing on period instruments with no hint of period austerity (vibrato discreetly and tellingly used), opts for a more orthodox tempo here, yet is hardly less moving; and its more flowing speed for No. 6’s Fantasia emphasises the music’s tonal instability. Elsewhere, its style tends to be gentler and more graceful than that of the Lindsay, though it brings plenty of sinew to, say, the rigorously argued opening movement of No. 2. Where the Mosaïques unarguably scores over the Lindsay is in its intonation – at times, as in the finale of No. 5, the Lindsay’s tuning can be too sour for comfort. And with its teasing timing of Haydn’s upbeats, the Mosaïques finds more wit and whimsy in movements such as the minuet of No. 4 and the German-dance-style finale of No. 6. The Lindsay is, as ever, a challenging, deeply rewarding Haydn interpreter. But cruelly confined to a single version of Op. 76, I should now plump for the Mosaïques. Richard Wigmore