> Budapest String Quartet. Souvenir [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Budapest String Quartet. Souvenir.
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)

Concerto for Harp and Strings Op 4 No 6
Daniel Gregory MASON (1873-1953)

String Quartet on Negro Themes Op 19 (1920)
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)

Danse sacrée et danse profane (1904)
Charles Tomlinson GRIFFES (1884-1920)

Two Sketches based on Indian Themes (op posth)
Antonín DVORÁK (1841-1904)

String Quartet in F Major The American (1893)

Budapest String Quartet
Marcel Grandjany, harp (Debussy)
Recorded Coolidge Auditorium of The Library of Congress 1941-49
BRIDGE 9077 [64’22]

Souvenir is the word – miscellany is another – but whatever you call it this is an unashamedly engaging collection of repertoire not now associated with the heavyweight Budapest Quartet. The commercial discography however only tells, at best, a partial story reflecting the needs and dictates of a record company and seldom exploring the more disparate nature of the artists’ work. Because from their earliest days they had played a wide and intriguing number of pieces, some tailor made for the country of their concert tours, some played a few times only, but all of which somewhat belie their subsequent reputation as Beethovenian Olympians. So we know from another source that quartets were played by Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Bridge, Křenek (No 7), Martinů 6, Prokofiev (1 and 2), Shostakovich Op 49, Tansman (No 5), Villa-Lobos (2,6,17), Wellesz Op 67, Reger No 4, Rieti (2 and 3), Kreisler and Roussel Op 45. We also know that they collaborated in performances of Vaughan Williams’ On Wenlock Edge as well, probably, as Warlock’s The Curlew (a reference to the performance of a Warlock Quartet leads one to think so anyway). And then there was the amount of American music they played – notably Piston, Porter, Griffes and Mason but many others as well. In both choice of repertoire and inclination they seem to have taken over the role the Flonzaley Quartet occupied with regard to the promotion of native music in America.

The pieces on this Bridge CD reflect some of these facets. The Handel Concerto with elite French harpist, the saturnine Marcel Grandjany, is best known as the Op 4 No 6 Organ Concerto and is presented here in a dulcet arrangement for harp and string quartet. One doesn’t need to be an active adherent of vintage performance practice to enjoy it. It’s affectionate and lyrical with an extensive cadenza that shows off Grandjany’s unflappable technique. Meatier is Daniel Gregory Mason’s String Quartet on Negro Themes. This had an outing on Victor 78s courtesy of those indefatigable artists the Coolidge Quartet and more recently a Vox LP devoted to American chamber music included it, played by the Kohon Quartet, alongside works by Foote, Henry Hadley, Chadwick, Loeffler and Griffes and others. It’s an eclectic, sonorous, rhythmically alert work dedicated to the Flonzaley Quartet with a first movement laden with vigour and spiced with impressionistic devices and impish attacks – not dissimilar in fact from the kind of works written by the two British Josephs – Speaight and Holbrooke. The central movement, a combined slow movement and scherzo, takes Deep River as its theme and subjects it to light transformative procedures ending in a return to the tempo primo and a kind of misty security. Occasionally the recording is itself a little murky – some of the inner part writing especially is inclined to be obscured as a result – but Mason’s use of spirituals is affectionate and rhythmically supple with touches of vernacular used to good effect.

Grandjany returns for Debussy’s luscious Danse sacrée et danse profane. The 1904 test piece receives a glittering evocation of its Dorian and Lydian modes; and Grandjany’s elfin delicacy is a source of delight. Griffes’ Two Sketches were published posthumously after his untimely death in his mid thirties. Edited by Adolfo Betti, first violinist of the Flonzaley, the first sketch is a lament with high see saw string figuration and keening lower strings based on the Farewell song of the Chippewa Indians whereas the second is more a moto perpetuo affair, energetic and exciting. Two other works round out the disc – the slow movement of Dvorák’s Op 96 – the only work here they recorded commercially – and a quartet warm up number, never performed in concert, of a naughty-but-nice arrangement of the tune Dinah; enough to say that it opens with a sonorous quotation from a Schubert Violin Sonatina, chucks in Silver Threads Among The Gold and swings mightily with wicked finesse.

Jonathan Woolf

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