The Budapest Quartet = TCHAIKOVSKY: String Quartet No. 2 in F Major, Op. 22; HINDEMITH: String Quartet in E-flat; DITTERSDORF: Menuet from Quartet No. 6 – Budapest String Quartet – Historic-Recordings

by | Aug 3, 2009 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

The Budapest Quartet = TCHAIKOVSKY: String Quartet No. 2 in F Major, Op. 22; HINDEMITH: String Quartet in E-flat; DITTERSDORF: Menuet from Quartet No. 6 – Budapest String Quartet

Historic-Recordings HRCD 0003, 67:35 [] ****:

The Budapest Quartet (founded 1917)–old guard and relatively new–find rare and fascinating representation on this fine addition from Britain’s Historic Recordings label, the restorations by Bryan Bishop. The Tchaikovsky and Dittersdorf recordings (8-11 February 1929) feature the Budapest Quartet when indeed Hungarian players were active: Emil Hauser and Josef Roisman, violin; Istvan Ipolyi, viola; and Harry Son, cello. These players had all been members of the Budapest Opera Orchestra. The second Tchaikovsky Quartet (1875) did not remain in the active repertory of this ensemble, so its appearance here in any format makes significant listening. The scale of the music attests to Tchaikovsky’s desire to gain “legitimacy” as composer in the Germanic tradition. Despite an occasional Slavic turn or chordal progression, most of the musical material in the first movement (Adagio; moderato assai) undergoes classical procedures in sonata-form. Tchaikovsky’s model seems to have been Beethoven, although his counterpoint has one main source: Mozart’s Adagio and Fugue in C Minor, K. 546.

The old guard play with a selective use of vibrato, and Harry Son’s resonant cello compels our healthy respect. The D-flat Scherzo (Allegro giusto) likes Tchaikovsky’s use of competing and uneven  metrics, and the trio plays as a French-style gavotte. The Andante ma non troppo descends into an emotional F Minor, and we can hear the 19th Century performance-practices seep in, portamenti and the underlining of instrumental sighs. An operatic aria, or an extension of  “None but the Lonely Heart,” the movement indulges Hauser a long concertante part, an extended scena in which a lament plays out in symphonic style. The last movement, Allegro con moto, returns to F Major and its heavy askew polonaise-style rhythm smacks of both Russia and Dvorak’s Bohemia. Some harmonic interest ensues when the music modulates and the texture moves higher, but it soon resorts to the rustic dance, utilizing drones and pizzicati. Always trust Tchaikovsky to toss in a fugue, just to prove his skills conservatory-worthy.  

The Dittersdorf Menuet actually strikes a few strident chords in the course of its rather dainty progression, with the strings adding staccati, only to move, arco, into a somber moment of gravity – perhaps an homage to Lully. Two minutes in, the tempo picks up, and the texture lightens to become a concertante piece for violinist Hauser. The heavy tread resumes da capo, whose style seems quite antique by repetition.

Hindemith’s E-flat Quartet (rec. for Columbia, 2 April 1945) features almost entirely new, non-Hungarian personnel: Joseph Roisman is now first violin; Edgar Ortenberg, violin; Boris Kroyt, viola; and Mischa Schneider, cello. Given Hindemith’s own, instrumental background, Kroyt’s viola part carries much of the thematic continuity. The first movement moves rather lugubriously for five minutes, then the pace increases, and Roisman introduces an arioso theme the others are quick to integrate in canon or cancrizans. The group applies vibrato more freely than the earlier ensemble, and their intonation is fiercely accurate and pointed, just the ticket for Hindemith’s plain-spoken prosaic style. The stretti become quite intricate and thick, whirling figures beneath Roisman’s upper voice. The Adagio proves affecting, with the lower strings’ throaty voices in support of Roisman’s plaintive gestures. A counter theme of wistful character asks Kroyt to comment and Schneider to answer. The music becomes agitated, the figures reminiscent of the Scherzo from Beethoven’s quartet in the same key, Op. 127. Under the hazy ostinati higher up, the cello laments in long notes. The texture dissipates and then introduces a raspy presto sequence in sixteenth notes. Once again, Roisman sings over the increased turbulence, the cello in consonant song in an otherwise angst-ridden universe. A resolute melancholy saturates the last movement, despite the attempt to lighten the texture for the polyphonic episode. Again, we feel the influence of Beethoven, but the affect is severe, not liberated. The equality of the voice parts impresses us, though Kroyt’s viola enjoys ample singularity. Loud chords end the musical period of counterpoint, and a pizzicato epilogue ensues, moody, petulant. A repeated riff appears through the four voices, bows and departs. The comedy is ended.

— Gary Lemco

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