Mendelssohn, Schumann String Quartets: Mendelssohn in A minor, op. 13, Quintet in B-Flat, op. 87 (with Pinchas Zukerman, viola); Schumann No.1 in A Minor, op. 41, No. 1; No. 2 in F Major op. 41, No. 2; No. 3 in A Major, op. 41, No. 3 2 CDs RCA 94198
Dvorak: The Four Last Quartets (11 to 14), Terzetto in C Major, RCA 94196
The Hungarian Album: Dohnanyi: Quartets No. 2 in D-Flat Major, op. 15; No. 3 in A Minor, op. 33; Kodaly: Quartet No. 2. op. 10 Sony 88697158382
The Guarneri String Quartet (so named because of the instruments they play - Guarneri was a rival of Stradivarius in 17th Century Italy) were for many years the “house” quartet of RCA/BMG/Sony in its various iterations over the years. They were responsible for recording a substantial chunk of the conventional string quartet repertoire. Now, 45 years after their founding, they have decided to retire, and Sony has done them proud by re-releasing a great deal of the music they recorded over their long career.
Sony has wisely resisted the temptation to dump everything into one giant box. That “selling-by-the-pound” approach by other companies (those still around) can lead to a box of 20, 30, 50 CDs, you name it, at a bargain price. But what price the bargain when, a) you already own some of the material; and b), there are CDs in the box that you’d never have purchased separately. Suddenly, it’s not such a bargain!
The Guarneri were always notable for the brilliance of their playing, especially of the Romantic repertoire, and the warmth of their sound produced by their beautifully matched instruments. Of the discs I listened to, what stands out is the intensity of their playing in the 2-CD set of Mendelssohn and Schumann Quartets, probed with an attention to detail that is not often present in performances of these composers.
I also admired the liveliness on the disc containing the rarely played Dohnanyi and Kodaly Quartets. With playing of this calibre, reports of the imminent demise of chamber music seem somewhat exaggerated. Chamber music has always occupied a small but important niche, and was always a minority taste, even among Classical music listeners. Yes, the chamber music series I attend several times yearly is is mostly populated by white-haired patrons, some of whom are inevitably lost year by year. And yet the concerts are well attended in spite of this attrition. So, who is replacing the lost ones? I don’t know, but maybe at a certain age the chamber-music button is engaged in some of us.
Vladimir Horowitz - The Private Collection: Mussorgsky & Liszt RCA Red Seal 88697 49925 2
These performances date from 1948 and 49, and show Horowitz at the height of his prodigious powers. I do not know why later in his life he became a favourite target of the intellectual left music listener. I suspect it is somewhat the same reason barbs were aimed at Heifetz; that is, both exhibited supreme technical brilliance and so were accused of a kind of cold facility, or, especially in the case of Horowitz, of pulling the music around to show off his stunning talents.
Well, this disc is superb! The accepted view of Pictures At An Exhibition is that it is most brilliantly played by Richter in his Sofia recital disc. This performance sounds different, but is, in its own way, just as impressive. Yes, Horowitz does some strange things, but his answer to the purists was, “I worked hard on that transcription. I am proud of it. You see, I felt the Pictures had to be brought forward; they were too introverted. When I change anything, it is only to make a better piano sound.”
As the final chords of The Great Gate Of Kiev died away, I sat utterly transfixed. I could not get the final sounds of the piece out of my head for days afterward. The Liszt B Minor Sonata, S.178 - a favoured piece of Horowitz’s canon, is superbly played. Considering the date, the piano sound is not at all bad. A disc to treasure!
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