> Franz Schubert - Quartet No. 10, Quartet No. 14 [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- Sept 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Quartet No 10 in E Flat D87
Quartet No 14 D810 Death and the Maiden
Calvet Quartet
Recorded 1937
TELDEC TELEFUNKEN LEGACY 0927 42661 2 [62’37]


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Yehudi Menuhin as a boy once left perplexed during the middle of a concert given by the then leading French Quartet, the venerable Capet. He couldn’t take their bare minimum of vibrato and it took him years to appreciate the artistry and the aesthetico-musical principles that lay behind their playing. The Capet dominated Parisian quartet playing until Lucien Capet, the first violinist and eminence grise died in 1928. Meanwhile other well-trained, tonally exceptional quartets began to emerge from the Conservatoires and hothouse encounters with such as Thibaud and Enescu, who played informally with many of them. The Franco-Belgian Pro Arte were perhaps the best known and recorded extensively but the Flonzaley were active as well, mainly in America, where they were sponsored and financed. Other quartets of stature included the Bouillon and the Krettly later to be joined by the Pascal – León Pascal was the violist of the Calvet – Champeil and Loewenguth. All recorded and all were distinguished exponents of French or Franco-Belgian literature in particular although their influence began to wane under the assault of the Soviet violin school.

Foremost among French quartets after the demise of the Capet was the Calvet. The original line-up consisted of violinists Joseph Calvet, Georges Mignot, León Pascal and cellist Paul Mas. At the end of the 1920s second violinist Mignot resigned and was replaced by Daniel Guilovitch, later famous for his eponymous Quartet in America and leadership of Toscanini’s NBC Orchestra. He was perhaps most famous, after a name change to Guilet, as the founder of the Beaux Arts Trio in 1955 until his retirement in 1969. The thirties saw the first recordings of the Calvet and a series of prestigious first performances – Delannoy, Françaix, Guy-Ropartz, and Hahn (they recorded Delannoy, Caplet and one movement of Florent Schmitt’s Piano Quintet). The Quartet was to break up under the pressure of the War with Guilovitch’s escape to America, reformed briefly but never regained its international place.

The Calvet has fared well on CD recently. A Japanese set devoted to the French quartet tradition devotes three volumes to them – SGR 8664-56. LYS has also been busy on their behalf – there are at least four volumes, LYS298/99, 311, 323, 339 and this new Telefunken Legacy issue of the Schubert Quartets replicates LYS311. The Quartet had a superb pedigree. Calvet had studied under Rémy at the Paris Conservatoire. Violist Pascal was a pupil of the greatest of French viola players, Maurice Vieux. Guilovitch had enjoyed the cultured milieu of the intimate chamber evenings hosted by Thibaud and others. There is a refined, raffiné quality to their Schubert that is immediately attractive, with exquisite tonal qualities of balance and weight and a rather feminine impress. Attacks are moderate in scale, dynamics are even, rubato subtle and pervasive, portamanti quick, expressive and minimal. In the E Flat major quartet they find temperate gravitas and tonal luxuriance, a marvelous sweetness that is never over familiar. How adeptly they deploy the final resigned pizzicato at the close of the work. Death and the Maiden again demonstrates qualities of tonal blend, unanimity and sagacity of tempo relation and internal balancing. It may seem rather smaller scale than contemporary performance has come to expect but there can be no gainsaying the means by which the Calvet convey the intimacy and drama of it and the sheer beauty of sound they confer upon it. All the Telefunken legacy series that I’ve seen are beautifully produced, in three languages – notes here by Tully Potter - with evocative photographs housed in book form with 78-style record sleeve complete with Telefunken motif. Strongly recommended.

Jonathan Woolf

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