The Lindsays' recent decision to disband the quartet at the very peak of their fame and excellence was shocking, to say the least. No Roger Clemens endless farewell tours for this group, however. Their sole testament is this 2 DVD set from Opus Arte; performances of 7 Haydn string quartets recorded during the 2004 Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival in Finland (just below the Arctic Circle). Taking advantage of the 24 hour days at the Summer solistice, participants spend nearly every available sunlit moment playing, talking about or watching chamber music. This is the Woodstock I'd like to attend!
The Lindsays made their reputation on recordings of the complete quartets of Beethoven, Bartok and especially Haydn. In fact we owe the Lindsays our gratitude for restoring Haydn's approximately 68 quartets to their rightful centrality in the canon. Their Haydn performances, of unsurpassed excellence, are a towering monument that this quartet leaves as it's legacy.
Autumnal colors are appropriate for the demise of an institution so the DVD packaging, the embossed DVDs (and their interactive menus), even the studio and stage on which the Lindsays perform (performances are split between the two) are all decorated in the oranges and browns of Autumn. It is all quite lovely but it does make one sad. Yet, Autumn is harvest time. And this musical harvest is utterly magnificent. Disc 1 begins with 2 quartets from Haydn's Op.20 collection written in 1772, Nos. 2 and 5. Each quartet is introduced and quickly analyzed with musical examples. The viewer can choose to skip these intros but they are so good it would be a shame not to listen at least once. The next quartet is Op.33 No.3 "The Bird" from 1782. Finally, the single Op.42 quartet completes the disc. Disc 2 contains Op.54 Nos. 1 and 2 and from the famous Op.76 series No.5. A 54 minute feature on The Anatomy of a String Quartet by producer Reiner E. Moritz rounds out the set. The 2 DVDs contain 224 minutes of material.
It is hardly surprising that all of their performances are superb. The Lindsays have internalized modern scholarship. Their judicious use of vibrato and portamento while wrapping Haydn's Classical idiom in expressions of deep emotion (the slow movements are often meltingly sad) provides the best of both worlds: Classical and nascent Romantic. They play Haydn as if Brahms were peaking over their shoulder. Quite different than the Kodaly Quartet's vision of these works on Naxos. I own the Hungarian quartet's complete set with it's slightly thinner sound and more classical, often folk-like approach to Haydn. It makes for fascinating comparisons.
It is much remarked that the reason for The Lindsay's stunning sound is the instruments they play. Two Stradivari violins, an Amati viola and a Ruggiero cello provide a rich, full and burnished tone. Coupled with the amazingly lifelike DTS 5.0 surround sound (without a subwoofer track the deeper cello notes are focused through the 3 front speakers), I felt immersed in beautiful music as if seated on stage with the quartet. A powerful aesthetic experience! The film itself, in high definition 16/9 anamorphic widescreen, is clearer than any musical DVD I've yet seen. Simply superb as a total experience. I cannot recommend this set highly enough. What a shame that all the Haydn string quartets cannot be presented this way. One can only dream...