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Classical quartets are vibrant, insightful and innovative

LINDSAY STRING QUARTET

All-Beethoven Program.

Presented by the MIT Guest Artist Series.

Kresge Auditorium, Sunday, March 5.

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AMSTERDAM LOEKI

STARDUST QUARTET

Recorder Quartet in a program

ranging from 1325 to the present.

Presented by Charles River Concerts.

Event in The Tech Performing Arts Series.

First Baptist Church, Sunday, March 5.

By JONATHAN RICHMOND

STARTING A TOUR that will take them across North America, with concerts in Chicago, Toronto, Buffalo, Stanford and New York's Alice Tully Hall among other venues, Britain's Lindsay Quartet put on a breathtaking display in Kresge Auditorium last Sunday afternoon. The Lindsays are renowned for their performances of Beethoven (their recordings of the late quartets have received particular kudos), so it was especially fortunate that they brought three Beethoven quartets to Boston. Their performances of each of them shone on many levels: they were intense, vibrant, spiritual but also sunny and uplifting views of the works.

Most extraordinary was the Lindsay account of Op. 135, an interpretation of mounting spiritual intensity. The quartet got under way in an atmosphere of spaciousness, in which the music's complexities were explored with not only superb technical control, but a special warmth of ensemble.

As Op. 135 proceeded, one felt oneself falling as through a funnel into an increasingly concentrated musical realm. The third movement variations (Lento assai, cantate e tranquillo) saw the quartet members closed up together, locked in an ecstatically-beautiful inwardly-turned lyricism. Their unified melancholic chant-like playing was extremely serious, taking the listener through a religious experience of the sublime. The movement was as a continuous legato of the inner spirit; played with great smoothness, the extraordinary intensity the Lindsay Quartet developed is unparalleled.

The final movement opened darkly, as if to tell the audience they were in another world, and saw the first violins set against the viola and cello to great dramatic effect. But there was a singing quality to the playing, too, life-affirming and optimistic as much as physical-world-sublimating and mysterious.

The concert had begun with Beethoven's Quartet No. 4 in C minor, Op. 18. The tensions started developing from the first note, the rapport between players showing in the open, natural sound. First Violinist Peter Cropper showed an ability to play with great nuance as well as detail; in the concluding movement, his tone had a great sweetness as well as tenderness. While there were especially intimate and insightful passages during the Menuetto; Allegretto, nothing was trivialized in a performance that led us through the work as a great story-teller through a gripping piece of fiction.

The program ended with the Quartet No. 8 in E minor, Op. 59, No. 2. Once more, one was drawn to admiring the group's special sense of ensemble -- the way in which players would express themselves individually while tied, as if by some invisible elastic umbilical to the musical sensibility of the Quartet as a whole. When in the second movement, for example, second violinist Ronald Birks took off on a lullaby-like theme, first violin, viola and cello were close at hand to provide soothing support. The striking depths to which cellist Bernard Gregor-Smith took his lucky audience were underlined by their relationship to the other sounds emanating from this most powerful gang of four.

The quartet ended on a note of tenderness, but also urgency, leaving what will be long-lasting memories of one of the most emotionally-powerful and musically-insightful recitals MIT has had for a long time.

SUNDAY EVENING, a quite different chamber experience was on offer: the Amsterdam Loeki Stardust Quartet play a range of recorders from a tiny sopranino to a monster towering above the player's head. They play the most complex of music with the easiest of virtuosity, simulating at will the sound of an organ or an orchestra, and providing an experience of pure musical bliss.

The program was varied -- ranging from the anonymous English Estampita of 1325 to a contemporary work, When shall the sun shine by quartet member Paul Leenhouts. This latter piece, which includes references from well-known American pop and jazz songs, was performed with a quite evident impish pleasure, as were a number of other mildly outrageous works on offer.

The more profound pieces were done with a combination of recorder sizes, providing a full-bodied and variegated sound. The Fantasia 8 in A minor was tellingly played; Jacob Obrecht's J'ai pris amours exhibited dignity as well as depth; the Lamentationes of Palestrina were brought across with much pathos, sounding like a solemn but inventive organ fugue.

Frans Geysen's Periferisch, Diagonaal, Concertrisch of 1972 is an essay in contrasts, and it was marvelous how evocatively they were brought out. As for the syncopated rhythms, percussion sounds and sheer jazzy froth of the Leenhouts work, it is still hard to fathom how four recorder players manage to do it.