Budapest Quartet: Introuvables = Works by HAYDN; SCHUBERT; MENDELSSOHN; TCHAIKOVSKY; DVORAK; BARTOK; WOLF – Budapest String Quartet/ Watson Forbes, viola/ John Moore, Cello – Pristine Audio PACM 113 (2 CDs: TT: 2:33:12, complete listing below) [www.pristineclassical.com] *****:
This fine collection, assembled and edited in pointed sound by Restoration Engineer Mark Obert-Thorn, traverses the early period in the recorded legacy of the Budapest String Quartet (1917-1967), here1932-1938, including several items from the repertory they did not reconsider in their later efforts on records. Curiously, this reviewer comes to a part of this collation in reverse: through Columbia LP ML 5116, “Budapest String Quartet Encores,” which offered selected movements from large works, like the Franck Quartet, the Grieg, as well as the Wolf Serenade, the Tchaikovsky Andante, and the Schubert “Quartettsatz.” In one selection, the Dvorak Sextet (31 May 1938), Hungarian violist Istvan Ipolyi has been replaced by Boris Kroyt, effectively altering forever the original, “national” character of the ensemble.
The extensive program opens with Haydn’s Quartet No. 43 in G Major (rec. 24 April 1935) from Haydn’s fertile imagination of 1788, having produced the three, so-called “Tost Quartets,” named after a member of the Esterhazy Orchestra . This performance has remained available, prior, only in its 78 rpm format. The opening Allegro con brio enjoys a spirited vitality, the thrusting rhythmic pulse moves in relentless arcs. The moody Allegretto has moments for first violin Joseph Roisman that play in concertante fashion. The dark hues from viola Ipolyi and cello Mischa Schneider make their presence known. The ternary Menuetto enjoys a rustic gait, with graduated dynamics that lead to gavottelike Trio section. The Presto finale has a hasty, busily syncopated, antiphonal texture, sizzling in its attacks and witty in its stops and starts.
Certainly, the Byronic anguish of Schubert’s A Minor Quartet of 1824 appealed to the Budapest Quartet (4 April 1934) in its studied intimacy and its sadly lyrical character. Their performance turns inward, especially in the two low strings, with the upper voices projecting haunted echoes of the lied Gretchen am Spinnrade. The famed Andante, the “Rosamunde” second movement, seems no less reliant on the slow movement of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony. The melancholy, having suffused the first two movements, finds little relief in the Menuetto (Allegretto), whose opening cello tones inject a nair of menace. The Trio section turns the tune upside-down and then appears as a unifying motif in the Allegro moderato finale.The lasting unity of effect has been accomplished by Schubert’s haunted sense of fragile humanity.
The Mendelssohn String Quartet in E-flat Major (1829), his first published effort in the genre, has an impressive technical arsenal at its disposal, for a composer, aged 20. In several respects, the work is a valedictory elegy to Beethoven, and the second violin enjoys a rare opportunity to shine, here (rec. 29 April 1935) realized by Alexander Schneider. Joseph Roisman, first violin, engages in recitative materias in at least three of the movements, adding an “operatic” aspect to the unfolding drama. Commentators have pointed out the emotional, sighing phraseology in the opening Adagio non troppo bears a resemblance to Beethoven’s own Op. 74 “Harp Quartet.” That a kind of rhythmic, “fate” motif appears late in the Allegro non tardante section seems no coincidence.
The ensuing Canzonetta enjoys the impish charm of Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream incidental music, here in dainty, minor-mode, staccatos followed by quicksilver runs over a drone bass. Roisman proceeds to dominate the Andante espressivo third movement, whose “song without words” character bespeaks an operatic ambition.The last movement, Molto allegro e vivace, most directly nods to Beethoven in its C Minor modality, a clear display of the sturm und drang sensibility which the Budapest Quartet executes with a decided fire. When the tunes of movement one return, we feel Beethoven’s example of “cyclical unity” has not been lost on this young acolyte, though Mendelssohn has saved the return to the home key of E-flat as his last gambit.
For the relatively brief works: Tchaikovsky’s melancholy Andante cantabile (5 April 1934), Schubert’s searing Quartet-Movement in C Minor from the same session, and the earliest of the recordings, the frisky Wolf Italian Serenade (18 November 1932), we note that each enjoys a sensitive, often anguished intimacy. The Wolf piece, alone, breaks the sense of gloom, as will the large-scale Dvorak Sextet (31 May 1938), although we might feel that the melodic material of the first movement Allegro moderato does not sustain the large form Dvorak wishes to impose upon it. Nevertheless, the 1878 Sextet has any number of virtues: Dvorak’s first piece published beyond Bohemian borders, it abounds in Slavonic folk materials, mostly original to the composer. Particularly affecting, the second movement Dumka, elegiac and mercurial, shimmers with the intensity of ensemble, the slow polka, poco allegretto, aided by participants Watson Forbes and John Moore. The third movement, no less “national” in color, presents a Furiant (Presto), whose triple-meter syncopations discover a manic adherent in this pungent account. Opening Allegretto grazioso, quasi andantino, the last movement sets a sad, funereal tune to six variations. Typical of Dvorak, he alternates major and minor modes of presentation. The last variant, however, marked Stretta, departs for happier isles and embraces the taste of joy.
For collectors, the inclusion of the Second Bartok String Quartet (25 April 1936) may constitute the heart of the collection. I must confess to having owned the 78 rpm shellacs, courtesy of my instructor in chamber music, Patricia Isham. The unrelieved gloom of this work, created amidst the furor of WW I, came as a shock, and the unrelenting piece still manages to haunt the imagination, as well articulated by Zoltan Kodaly: “What emerges from the successive movements is not a series of different moods, but the continual evolution of a single, coherent, spiritual process. The impression conveyed by the work as a whole, though it is from the musical point of view formally perfect, is that of a spontaneous experience.”
The Budapest Quartet sets forth the opening melody, which like the ground-theme in the Liszt B Minor Sonata, establishes the primal impulse for the entire composition, undergoing, as it does, evolving variation. After the sustained, lingering melancholy of the first movement, Moderato, the Budapest suddenly breaks out into primitive energies, Allegro molto capriccioso, a wild impulse whose source lies in the Biskra section of Algeria, a product of Bartok’s ethno-musical researches. The drumbeats might well suit a reading of Vachel Lindsay’s poem “Congo.” The last movement, an eerie Lento, anticipates Bartok’s tendency, later, to end his quartets with a plangent Mesto. The violins introduce the theme of movement one, transformed and having to endure the falling, minor third that dictates melodic shape in this work. True, Bartok’s vision is grim, but it no less invokes the words of W.B. Yeats: “a terrible beauty is born.”
Budapest Quartet: Introuvables:
HAYDN: Quartet No. 43 in G Major, Op. 54/1
SCHUBERT: Quartet No. 13 in A Minor, D. 804; Quartet No. 12 in C Minor, D. 703
MENDELSSOHN: Quartet No. 1 in E-flat Major, Op. 12
TCHAIKOVSKY: Andante cantabile from Quartet No. 1 in D, Op. 11
DVORAK: Sextet in A Major, Op. 48
BARTOK: Quartet No. 2 in A Minor, Op. 17
WOLF: Italian Serenade in G Major
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