Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.
Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra.
Leipzig Gewandhaus Qrt; Peter Bruns (vc);
Theodor Albin Findeisen (db);
Max von Pauer (pn);
Bernd Glemser (pn);
Herbert Blomstedt, cond;
NCA 60193 (2 Hybrid multichannel SACDs: 141:52) Live: Leipzig 4/2007;
It is hard to believe that there is a string quartet that has been around for 200 years, but this is exactly the case with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Quartet, which celebrated the auspicious anniversary in autumn of 2008. Many great artists, including the Mendelssohn-appointed concertmaster Ferdinand David and the Brahms favorite Joseph Joachim, graced this ensemble’s membership list over the years, founded by the estimable Heinrich August Matthäi in 1808. The Quartet developed a certain darkly rich style that probably emanated out of the opulent Romantic tradition that enforced itself during the 19th century. After all, the famous Gewandhaus “small” hall that saw the likes of Clara Schumann, Louis Spohr, Johannes Brahms, Anton Rubinstein, and many others is probably unequalled in the annals of music in terms of fame and quality of performances and compositions.
This two-disc Super Audio set, released in tribute to the 200 years of existence of the Quartet, features music that has played an important part in the concerts of the ensemble over the years (though none were apparently premiered there, certainly some, like the Schumann, received performances very soon after the ink was dry, and often before publication). In general, I think I can give a firm recommendation to all the readings here, though none tops my own personal chart, and I suspect would not that of many collectors as well. I have enjoyed the recordings tremendously and can certainly give them an unqualified recommendation as supplements, or as an interesting way to hear a long-lost tradition in quartet playing that has a continuity like few other quartets have.
I’ll start with the “Trout,” as it is an exception to the norm here. This is a 1928 performance (offered in Super Audio at that—certainly a first for me in terms of old recordings in a modern technology) that sparkles with wit and style unlike few other readings. That is, until you hear the old Sony Budapest Quartet recording with Mieczys?aw Horszowski, my long-time gold standard in this work, though I’ll admit to a slight seduction with the famous Barenboim/du Pré/Perlman/Zukemous Barenboim/du cond, choice, because of the age, but it’s one of the best 1920s recordings I have ever heard, miraculously clear.
The Schubert String Quintet, long a favorite of just about anyone in the world, and hence subject to a lot of competition, is able to contend with many others. I Want-Listed the classic mono Casals recording on Sony, but even that one doesn’t prove worthy for everyday use the same way the EMI Alban Berg Quartet does, decorously rich and as unblemished a performance as we have had in 50 years. They get it all right, while the Gewandhaus, which travels unmolested through the first three movements (especially the heavenly and exquisitely wrought slow movement), falters only somewhat in the curiously light-textured and slightly slow finale, where needed tension is just not there. Still, there is little to complain about otherwise.
The Spohr is something of a trivia piece; it has been recorded only a few times, at least as represented in the current catalog, and I have heard none of them. But the forces here represent a fine conglomeration that is something of a tradition in Leipzig, and I can’t imagine a reading that is more to the point of Spohr’s style (slightly pre-Romantic, crossing into the Classical tradition a little left to the scale from where Beethoven’s music might tilt to the right), and if you enjoy the super melodies that we find in his violin concertos and quartets, you will thrill to what he offers here, and the wonderful way he passes it around from instrument to instrument. This is a fine example of instrumental double choruses being rendered with the creation of a parallel woodwind section and marked by the always-supporting strings. Spohr makes use of these forces like few others (he also wrote a concerto for double quartet and orchestra), and the results are pure pleasure.
The Schumann ranks among the finest chamber pieces ever created, and a model for the piano quintet. Formidable competition looms on the horizon here, and I can’t relinquish my totally biased favor towards the Bernstein/Juilliard recording on Sony, to me the best in the catalog. Jerry Dubins seemed to prefer the Naxos release of the old 1950s performances by the Budapest Quartet and Clifford Curzon at the Library of Congress Coolidge Auditorium, saying that it “simply blows all of the competition away.” Not having heard that one I cannot comment, but doubt very much it surpasses the Argerich recording on EMI of late provenance. But we must add this one as well, tremendously exciting, with a brisk first movement and an exotic and quite suffering funeral march. However, I must admit that this one seems a little too funereal for me, almost to the point where it looses the
. This one flaw won’t prevent me from enjoying this committed and rollicking performance. Indeed, this is a fine set all around, one that is unique in its documentary value as well as adding pleasure for its own sake in the individual readings. For those wanting a second take, hesitate not.
FANFARE: Steven E. Ritter
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