Tuesday, October 17, 2017

More Schubert Blasts from the Past

Those who follow this site regularly are probably well aware of my enthusiasm for the recent release on the Profil label of Franz Schubert’s music played by pianist Sviatoslav Richter between 1949 and 1964. That enthusiasm has been further stoked by yet another recording produced by Praga Classics, which will be released this coming Friday. This also involves a pianist from the past, Mieczysław Horszowski; but the performers that dominate the entire album are the members of the Budapest String Quartet. The earliest recording was made in 1934, and all other selections fit into the same time frame of the Richter collection. As is probably expected, this recording is currently available for pre-order from Amazon.com.

The Budapest String Quartet was formed in 1917, the product of four Hungarian musicians who had lost their jobs as a result of World War I. By 1934 through group had already experienced several personnel changes; and it consisted of first violinist Josef Roisman (previously second violinist), second violinist Alexander Schneider, violist István Ipolyi, and cellist Misha Schneider. The one piece recorded at that time (at the Abbey Road Studio in London) was Schubert’s D. 703 in C minor, a single Allegro assai movement known most frequently at the “Quartettsatz” (piece for quartet).

The heart of the two-CD album, however, consists of Schubert’s last three quartets taken from concert recordings made in the Coolidge Auditorium of the Library of Congress at three concerts in May of 1953. By that time Jac Gorodetzky had become second violin, and Boris Kroyt was playing viola. These quartets were written between February of 1824 and June of 1826, meaning that none of them are “final year” compositions. Nevertheless there is no shortage of strikingly mature imagination in any of them. The most recent of the recordings is the one in which Horszowski participates. This is a 1962 studio recording of the D. 667 (“Trout”) quintet in A major, which also includes Julius Levine on bass.

There is no end to the delights offered up by these recordings. One could not ask for the Library of Congress performances to be more vivid. Yet that sense of urgent immediacy is just as present in the studio recordings. Furthermore, it is perfectly clear that Horszowski fit into the setting of playing with the Budapest as well as a hand fits into a well-tailored glove. D. 667 is at its most delightful in the many different combinations of exchanges that take place among all the players; and, on this recording, the attentive listener can savor every one of those exchanges. The vintage of these recordings may reach back into the better part of the last century; but there is no doubting the freshness that will draw that attentive listener into every well-shaped phrase in all five of the Schubert chamber music selections that have been recorded.

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