Biddulph 80222-2, 64:34 (Distrib. Albany) ****:
The 1935 inscription by the Budapest String Quartet in Britain’s Abbey Road Studio was among their first away from Germany, with Russian Joseph Roisman in the first violin part. His relatively modern approach to string technique had to offset the more Romantic, slightly anachronistic style of the ensemble’s viola player, Istvan Ippolyi. The tenor of the performance is sweetly aggressive, with the plangent second movement Molto adagio dominating our attention. The Allegretto utilizes a Russian tune (to satisfy patron Count Rasoumovsky) which we hear again in Boris Goudonov. Roisman’s concertante violin leads the frisky procession in the Finale: Presto movement, with Mischa Schneider’s cello a hefty presence.
The Op. 130 (rec. 1933-1934) had been recorded in part with first violinist Emil Hauser, along with the Grosse Fuge. Roisman and the Budapest recorded Beethoven’s substitute finale in Berlin; then, eight months later in Britain, they re-inscribed the first five movements. Some of the development section passages from the opening Allegro ma non troppo sound eerily contemporary, like music from Webern or Schulhof groping its way back to classicism. Sudden bursts of energy prove as startling today as they must have on shellacs of 70 years ago. A touch of portamento infiltrates the otherwise lean agogics of the Presto.
Classical colors make the Andante con moto an uneasy gavotte whose yearning is eager to break its form. A touch of melancholy insinuates itself into the Alla danza tedesca, a contrapuntal moment of pastoral, a German dance with a wistfulness for the Mediterranean. Furtwaengler had proved the Cavatina movement could well be realized in symphonic form; the Budapest Quartet, too, more than hints at an organ sonority in this highly concentrated, introspective section. The Finale bubbles with Haydn’s irreverent rusticity. Mischa Schneider’s cello is as much in evidence as Roisman’s nasal, piercing violin. Transfers of the original shellacs by Rick Torres are singularly quiet, with only wisps of surface noise to remind us of the age of these fine interpretations of the Beethoven canon. [Not only were these cut at the fast 78 rpm speed, but the cutting lathe was turned not by windup or electric motors but by falling weights. Therefore there are no serious speed variations and any intonation problems come from the Budapest Quartet itself…Ed.]
— Gary Lemco