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Myra Hess – Historic Broadcast Recordings
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Carnaval Op.9 (1834) [26:38]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Quartet in F minor Op. 34 (1861-64) [38:36]
Myra Hess (piano)
Griller Quartet
rec.  BBC Broadcasting House Studios, London, 13 October 1950 (Schumann), National Gallery, London, 25 August 1942 (Brahms)
APR 5646 [65:36]

The release of this APR disc will cause a problem for the collector who knows that this performance of Carnaval has been recently released on BBC Legends BBCL4201-2. To ease matters I’ll reprise my comments on the performance and then add a note on the transfer questions.
Hess’s visit to the BBC studios produced a performance that doesn’t differ materially in most respects from what we know of her earlier playing. Naturally, as with all great players, there are minor differences – chord weighting, voice leading, a certain degree of pedalling as well. But her conception remains as consistently illuminating and perceptive, as wholly musical and free of artifice as ever it was. One would only point to a couple of details to illuminate the way in which Hess had rethought detail – or maybe it would be more judicious to say that she had rethought detail on that particular broadcast. Eusebius does however show a tightening up of tempo and also therefore in its relationship to the preceding Valse noble and to Florestan with which it is explicitly contrasted. In her BBC broadcast Hess deliberately strips back the overt romanticism of her 1938 performance to present something somewhat more linear, less heavily chorded, less mellowly pedalled; it unfolds therefore with a somewhat clearer-eyed strength. In these small particularities we can follow, as far as is possible, Hess’s lifelong association with Schumann and with Carnaval in particular.
Of the two transfers that of the BBC is greatly to be preferred. It’s still not wonderful but is superior in all respects to that of APR who have clearly not been able to source the original broadcast tapes – theirs seem to be second generation. APR’s transfer is more constricted in frequency response throughout. If it’s Carnival you want you should be directed to the BBC.
There is of course a “But.”

The National Gallery Brahms Piano Quartet performance has been re-broadcast by the BBC in recent years. Here Hess joined the Griller Quartet who had supplanted the disbanded London as Britain’s leading string quartet. No real apologies need be made for the sound quality here, which is perfectly acceptable for a 1942 broadcast. The most important feature is the performance’s appearance on a commercial label available to a wide audience.
It wouldn’t especially matter were the performance merely adequate but it’s not. It’s superb. In strictly linear or temporal terms it uncannily matches the 1950 performance by the Budapest Quartet and Clifford Curzon. In fact it matches, in every movement, almost to the second. Remarkable. But of course emphases differ materially. The Griller had a leaner and wirier sound than the Budapest. They were also not obviously as extrovert as the Russian foursome, nor as inclined to sentimentality. This gives their reading a core purpose, a powerful and quivering intensity. True, the sound can be a trifle congested and very occasionally distorts and surface noise increases or decreases dependent on where we’ve reached in the acetates. One can hear an acetate switch in one of the movements but it’s not especially obtrusive. Yes, the strings do go sharp now and then but this is a really powerful performance and it’s intense without becoming glutinous. And it’s gutsy but never over garnished. Definitely one for the collectors.
Which leaves one with a dilemma. The BBC has the better transfer of the Schumann but the Brahms is a unique document. I do know that if I were a Hess collector - and I am - I would need this APR.
Jonathan Woolf


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