Notes and Editorial Reviews
Here's another in Bridge's valuable series of Library of Congress concerts featuring the Budapest Quartet. The prize is the Brahms G minor Piano Quartet, which gets a powerful, rhapsodic reading. The first movement sets the tone for the rest of the performance: emphatic melodic contours, sharp accents, and a singing line. Unison passages are swathed in a rich, full-toned sound, lyrical ones are sung sweetly, and rhythmic ones are sharply delineated. The excitement meter swings high but never veers into the red zone that signals the artificial and overdone. A major reason for the performance's success is pianist Artur Balsam, best remembered as an accompanist who toured and recorded with some of the top string soloists of the 1940s and 1950s and as a frequent partner with the Budapest and Juilliard Quartets. He doesn't dominate here, but he perfectly matches the Budapest's approach and plays with intensity. Balsam swings into the big moments with a largeness of sound and color that matches his colleagues, sometimes lending a concerto-like aspect to this big, big chamber piece. At the same time, he--like his partners--can tenderly caress the lyrical aspects of the score and scale down his sound to lend magic to the gossamer ending of the Intermezzo.
The Schumann quintet gets a similar performance, with dramatic, sweeping lines and full due given the big tunes without excessive milking. The Budapest recorded it commercially with both Curzon and Serkin; the former, elegantly lyrical, the latter, full of fire. This one falls somewhere between the two. The sound is a bit more alive in the Brahms, from 1951, and a bit airless and boxy in the 1953 Schumann, but more than adequate to convey the spirit of the performances in both. Budapest Quartet fans will want to know that the second violin in the Schumann is Jac Gorodetzky (Alexander Schneider didn't rejoin the group until 1955).
--Dan Davis, ClassicsToday.com