FIRST NIGHT; Tippett Quartets/The Lindsays

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The Independent Culture
When the string quartet's legacy in the 20th century is finally assessed, a handful of the genre's exponents will be tossed into the pot. The four quartets of Schoenberg and the six quartets of Bartok undoubtedly stand out, as do the five composed over a period of more than half a century by the late Sir Michael Tippett. Tippett completed the third of his quartets in 1946. There then followed a huge gap while he concentrated on operatic and concert works, after which he returned, in the 1970s, with the dazzling 4th quartet. The Lindsays gave the world premiere, and commissioned a very different, yet no less transcendental 5th. Working closely alongside Tippett, the foursome forged a fruitful partnership.

To mark the collaboration, the Lindsays this week perform all five quartets in two concerts in London's Wigmore Hall, although the two recitals are not in memoriam events. "They're intended as an on-going celebration of the vitality of Tippett's contribution to the string quartet," says first violinist Peter Cropper.

How vital? "Exceptionally so," says Cropper. "It's frequently been remarked that any composer who couldn't play a stringed instrument could never pen a great quartet. Well, Tippett immediately disproves that theory five times over. Much of the sheer dynamic appeal of these pieces revolves around their pioneering qualities. Tippett always wanted to stretch himself and take risks. His overall grasp of structure is consummate. There's a very individual voice here. At the same time, each of the five is a highly shaped and individual work."

It's not surprising, then, that Cropper enthuses about the times he played the quartets in Tippett's presence. "We always found him incredibly generous in spirit. And the process was always two-way. He was never didactic."

Still the Lindsays don't claim the quartets as their personal domain. "Our exploration is on-going," says Cropper. "Other foursomes might have different yet just as viable approaches."

The programming of the five quartets into two concerts has set the Lindsays thinking. "We've done the cycle in a number of ways. What seems to work best is the 2nd and 4th with Beethoven's Op.130, to which No.4 alludes. And, on the second night, to form this arc with the 1st, 3rd and 5th," says Cropper.

Tippett enthusiastically endorsed the Lindsays' performances, describing the team as "the best friend a composer could have".

Wigmore Hall, London W1 (0171-935 2141) 15 Sept, 7.30pm; 18 Sept, 7.30pm

Duncan Hadfield