Classical Reissue Reviews

BRAHMS: Clarinet Quintet in B Minor; MOZART: String Quartet in D Major; String Q. in D Major – Alfred Gallodoro, clar./ Stuyvesant String Q. – Bridge

Bridge reissues classic Brahms and Mozart by the Stuyvesant Quartet, one of the first home-grown American ensembles that could clearly compete with any European chamber music group.

Published on July 3, 2013

BRAHMS: Clarinet Quintet in B Minor; MOZART: String Quartet in D Major; String Q. in D Major – Alfred Gallodoro, clar./ Stuyvesant String Q. – Bridge

BRAHMS: Clarinet Quintet in B Minor, Op. 115; MOZART: String Quartet in D Major, K. 499; String Quartet in D Major, K. 575 – Alfred Gallodoro, clarinet/ Stuyvesant String Quartet – Bridge 9397, 79:51 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

The famed Stuyvesant String Quartet – Sylvan Shulman and Bernard Robbins, violins; Ralph Hersh, viola; and Alan Shulman, cello – join clarinetist Alfred Gallodoro (1913-2008) for this 4-5 December 1947 inscription on 78s for the International Records label of the Brahms 1891 Clarinet Quintet. The rather streamlined approach takes Brahms quite literally for the opening Allegro, which seamlessly integrates the clarinet solo into the ensemble. In the second movement Adagio, the violins use spare vibrato to achieve a rather ghostly effect through which the clarinet weaves an autumnal gauze in B Major/B Minor, often moving into the formulaic groups of parallel thirds and sixths that serve as binding material throughout the work. The acoustic of the Majestic Theatre in New York City sounds a bit reverberant but sympathetic to Gallodoro’s haunted riffs. The resonance of the playing finds a wholesome sympathy in the vibrant enthusiasm of each player for his respective part.

The long lines of the Andantino enjoy a symmetry we also find in the third movement of the C Minor Symphony, while the motivic groupings suggest the kind of developing variation technique that builds from shards and fragments of themes, much anticipating the Second Viennese School. The explosion of color in the da capo of the third movement quite testifies to the intensity of this ensemble. Only the Con moto finale overtly defines itself as a theme-and-variations, which announces the theme from the second movement as a source of new inspiration. If we wish to consider the Quintet as a swan-song in the composer’s career, we must still reckon its passion and color, realized in fluent abundance in this classic account.

The two Mozart quartets derive from sessions at the Village Lutheran Church in Bronxville, New York, 11 December (K. 499) and 24 November (K. 575) 1951. These inscriptions were made for the short-lived Philharmonia Records label. The D Major Quartet, K. 499 is dedicated to Franz Anton Hoffmeister and moves in a joyful mode whose clever inversions and manipulations – in the opening Allegretto movement – of the broken D Major chord often point to later use of such devices by Schubert. Typical of the Stuyvesant ensemble, the intonation and color balances provide no end of musicality, and Mozart dances and sings at every turn. The passionate Menuetto quite adumbrates aspects of the Romantic ethos, with throbbing bass parts and canons that absorb the triplet figures in the minor mode. The Stuyvesant turns the extended G Major Adagio into an opera aria, as opulent as it is intimate. The bass parts once more engage in canonic tapestry as rich in imagination as Mozart’s grander symphonic opera. First violin Sylvan Shulman serves as prima donna in the finale, one of the witty sonata-rondo mixes Mozart stole from Haydn. Quite feisty, this movement has the Stuyvesant in blithe triplet motion, with two principal themes arguing and reconciling according to their own lights. The seamless performance moves so effortlessly that we might have to repeat our listening experience, just to fill in the gaps or to better appreciate how Mozart moved us to his spirited coda.

Virtually the same assessment applies to the Stuyvesant’s rendition of the 1789 “Prussian” Quartet in D Major, K. 575, among Mozart’s most happily serene compositions. To accommodate Prince Karl Lichnowsky, Mozart had to create a prominent cello part for his composition, and Alan Shulman rises to its demands with songful eloquence, especially in his higher register. The dialogues between the brothers Shulman attest to the easy communication and finesse of their ensemble. The thoughtful Andante betrays moments of melancholy, despite the generally sunny atmosphere of the work as a whole. Violin and cello commiserate in a melodic rapture that often forecasts the melos in Schubert. Alan Shulman emerges once more for the trio section of the Menuetto, whose tempo approaches a Haydn or Beethoven scherzo. The brilliant Allegretto finale is all Mozart cleverness and invention, borrowing melodies from prior movements and integrating them into an active rondo that enlarges itself at each return. The Stuyvesant makes it all sound easy, although Mozart’s extensive sketches indicate that he had to work on this one.

Sound restoration by Brian C. Peters is top flight.

—Gary Lemco

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