The Lindsays, Wigmore Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

Time to say goodbye? Certain notorious prima donnas and dancers have carried on giving farewell performances for year after year; other musicians have preferred simply to indicate that the concert they have just participated in was the last ever.

It is some time since the four- string virtuosi of The Lindsays announced that, after nearly 40 years together, they would be breaking up this coming July. But then, they have an awful lot to say goodbye to - the 40-odd greatest string quartets of Haydn, for starters.

This first of a pair of Wigmore Hall programmes in their last chronological survey of that seminal output arrived at the three middle-period quartets Haydn published in 1788 as his Op 54.

On the face of it, these are works of some brilliance: Haydn wrote their first violin parts for an extrovert virtuoso called Johann Tost. Yet, as the Lindsays tackled music that must be in their very bones for the last time together, the sense of farewell was sometimes palpable. Never more so than in the String Quartet in C, Op 54, No 2. But then, this is an altogether bemusing piece in the first place.

Its restless first movement is already full of unsettling pauses and lurches of key. Its darkly revolving slow movement throws up a rhapsodic first violin part that the leader Peter Cropper seized on with almost gypsy-like poignancy.

Yet this movement unexpectedly proves to be the mere upbeat to the ensuing minuet and trio with its strange, chordal cries (what did Haydn mean by them?) resounding, on this occasion, more plangently than ever.

And, despite the brief burst of fast music Haydn suddenly insinuates near its end, the last bars of the immensely broad, slow finale wound down with a valedictory tenderness that will linger long in the memory.

If this was the emotional high spot of the evening, the works on either side were full of rewards. Granted, Cropper and colleagues pitched into the opening movements of both the String Quartet in G, Op 54, No1, and in E, Op 54, No 3, with an almost desperate energy, even roughness, as if to defy any sense of "last things".

But, as so often, they seemed in the slow movements of both works to enter a timeless, luminous world quite beyond the mere notes.

And even more so in the richly harmonised Adagio of the String Quartet in G, Op 77, No 1 (1799) brought forward in the Lindsay's Haydn survey to crown this programme - though in this instance, the sprightly marching first movement had a complementary precision.

Of course, we are fortunate to have their recordings of the entire Haydn canon. But no disc, however immaculate, could quite capture the immediacy of the live experience, with which these players have always responded to one another and continue to communicate to their audiences.