Recorded in Hollywood, California 18-20 August 1946, the two Mozart piano quartets with George Szell and members of the Budapest String Quartet were Szell’s (1897-1970) first American records, cut for CBS just prior to his assumption of the directorship of the Cleveland Orchestra following Artur Rodzinski. A piano pupil of Richard Robert in Berlin, Szell developed an astonishingly brilliant piano facility, one that caused Gina Bachauer–in an interview we had in Syracuse–to recall his work at a second keyboard when they rehearsed a piano concerto, “like sitting next to a musical buzz saw.”
Sony issued the two Mozart piano quartets several years ago, coupled with Szell’s collaboration with violinist Rafael Druian on two Mozart sonatas. For this Naxos incarnation, Mark Obert-Thorn has taken 33rpm lacquer discs as his source. The results are generally quiet, permitting Szell’s beguilingly light and deft keyboard work–listen to those Mannheim rockets in K. 478– and Roisman’s nasal, long-lined violin to complement each other, while basking in the harmonies from Boris Kroyt and Mischa Schneider. Kroyt’s viola, in fact, has a luminous timbre that benefits from Mozart’s transparent part-writing.
The RCA collaboration with Benny Goodman and the Budapest Quartet (25 April 1938) will likely attract collectors, who will want Goodman’s performance, superior to his prior ensemble work with the Pro Arte Quartet. The tempo of the first movement accelerates quickly, and the steady pulse the group maintains through some tricky metrics testifies to the discipline imposed on all participants. Goodman plays in a frothy, extroverted style – forthright, favoring a long line and audacious ornaments. The Larghetto is a rich experience, mellow and secure, with Goodman’s low, chalumeau register in full glory. Mischa Schneider’s second violin stands out along with Goodman and Roisman for the perky march that Mozart calls a Menuetto. Smooth segues in the theme and variations of the last movement, and that includes the technical splices of the side-breaks. It seems Reginald Kell served as Goodman’s mentor for his classical incursions, and the security of Goodman’s pacing is likely the beneficiary. A fine addition to the historic chamber music legacy on CD, this, and I urge Mark Obert-Thorn to devote equal care to restoring the work of oboist Mitch Miller with the same technical and musical acumen.
— Gary Lemco