> Budapest String Quartet: Rachmaninov [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Budapest String Quartet
Sergei RACHMANINOFF (1873-1943)

String Quartet No 1 incomplete – two movements (1889)
String Quartet No 2 incomplete – two movements (1896)
Trio Élégiaque Op 9 (1893 rev 1907 and 1917)
Budapest String Quartet
Artur Balsam, piano
Recorded at the Coolidge Auditorium of The Library of Congress April 4th 1952
BRIDGE 9063 [72.00]


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In their recital at the Coolidge Auditorium of The Library of Congress on 4th April 1952 the Budapest Quartet and Artur Balsam programmed an all Rachmaninoff programme. The Quartet disinterred the two incomplete apprentice quartets – both in two movements only, in the edition by Dobrokhotov and Kirkor – and added the Op 9 Trio with Balsam. All these are early works, the Quartets dating from 1889 and 1896 and the Trio from 1893, though it was substantially revised in 1907 and again during 1917.

The 1952 line-up of the Quartet was Joseph Roisman, Jac Gorodetzky, Boris Kroyt and Mischa Schneider. Gorodetzky, though Russian like the others, came from a different musical background inasmuch as he was from the Franco-Belgian school and had been the second violin of the Guilet Quartet, distinguished exponents of the repertoire and one of France’s best pre-War Quartets. As Alexander Schneider always maintained, despite their Russian birth the Budapest considered themselves essentially Germanically trained and so the French orientated Gorodetzky, who replaced Edgar Ortenberg, contributed an admixture of lightness and flexibility to the quartet’s texture.

The then seldom-performed Quartets (much less so even than now) emerge well from these performances. The First opens replete with more than a whiff of the Budapest’s occasional perfumed style and Boris Kroyt, whose viola has a substantial and prominent place in the ensemble, begins a little hoarsely, though this is exacerbated by the rather clinical acoustic of the Coolidge Auditorium. The second movement, a Scherzo, opens in boldly confident style, with a second subject pizzicato-led and of moderate gravity, well-played and wittily done. All the works on the disc owe a huge and unignorable debt to Tchaikovsky and this one more than most. The Second Quartet shows a somewhat greater weight of melodic inspiration, its slow second movement being especially intriguing. It has a sepulchral Passacaglia like form which gains inexorably in emotive power throughout its ten minute length and the eventual return to the saturnine opening is well-judged by the players with just the right weight of withdrawn tone.

The Trio features Joseph Roisman, Mischa Schneider and Artur Balsam. I like the rise and fall of Balsam’s strong chording in the first movement and even the rather slithery string playing at 5.00 – it’s excitingly done. Balsam plays the passage from 7.02 onwards with true singing tone with underpinning by the strings and the playing generally is marked by metrical flexibility. Roisman and Scheider exchange phrases at 17.00 onwards with masterly understanding and tonal blend. In the Quasi variazioni second movement, which are based on The Rock, a flowing tempo is accompanied by an expressive profile – this is Rachmaninoff’s tribute to Tchaikovsky who had been so impressed by The Rock that he offered to conduct the first performance and in the avowed tradition of Tchaikovsky’s own elegiac trio, itself dedicated to Nikolai Rubinstein. In the finale Balsam is incendiary – even banging at 4.20, a feature doubtless magnified by the dry recording – but his dynamics are good and the string players though not always watertight of ensemble make a fine showing especially in the explicitly Tchaikovskian draining away ending to the work.

The lack of bloom of the Coolidge Auditorium is a simple fact of acoustic life - admires of the Quartet won’t hesitate to acquire these performances despite the unflattering nature of the sound – because discographically these are tremendously interesting additions to the Budapest’s corpus of surviving works. Notes are by the perceptive if here slightly non-committal Harris Goldsmith.

Jonathan Woolf

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