Friday 30 June 1995
Borodin: String Quartet No 2.
Glazunov: Five Novelettes for String Quartet
The Hollywood String Quartet Recorded: 1952-1955
(Testament SBT 1061)
They played for Sinatra, they played for Schoenberg - and when Walton heard their recording of his 1947 String Quartet, he was bowled over. And no wonder. The Hollywood String Quartet combine emotional intensity with a silken tone, incisive attack and great musical perception. Their recorded legacy (all of which is due out on the Testament label) is quantitatively modest but qualitatively substantial, while this particular trio of performances exhibits their skills to the full.
Tchaikovsky's finely crafted First Quartet has at its core a simple Andante cantabile - "simple", that is, until you hear the range of expressive nuance that the Hollywoods bring to it. Imagine the sweet-centred sonority of seasoned soundtrack string players, multiply it by four and apply the results to Tchaikovsky and you'll be roughly on target.
Borodin's Second Quartet marks a halfway-house between Hollywood and Moscow, having been plundered for such indelible "gems" as "And This Is My Beloved" and "Baubles, Bangles and Beads". Both melodies receive seductive advocacy, while Glazunov's five picture-portrait Novelettes typify the heart-warming style of Tchaikovsky's closest ballet rival. Again, the style is just right - especially in the "Interludium" and "All' ungherese", where "Old Russian" expressivity suggests a world lost to all but memory and records. Mendelssohn, Schumann and Brahms Lieder
Elisabeth Schumann (soprano) with piano or orchestra
Elisabeth Schumann was far more than a pretty voice. In fact, she had enough artistry, intelligence and poetic awareness to illuminate virtually the entire romantic lieder repertory, and her choice discography of 78s survives to tell the tale.
Schumann's Schubert recordings (already on CD) are legendary, but her Brahms is scarcely less remarkable. Compare her two versions of the celebrated "Lullaby" - the first (1935, with piano), ardent, open and artfully shaped; the second (1937, with orchestra), more obviously "interpreted" but with an affecting (and unexpected) reprise of the final couplet. Her 1938 recording of "To an Aeolian Harp" - never issued on shellac - is a miracle of inward narrative, with the muse's "tuneful lament" turning more beautiful by the bar. Schumann herself seems suspended in ecstatic levitation, whereas her charming characterisations of Brahms folk-song settings suggest an irrepressible sense of fun. It's a tonic not to be missed, and Mark Obert-Thorn's transfers are quite superb. My only regret is that neither texts nor translations are supplied.
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