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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

The Stuyvesant String Quartet
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)

Quartet in F minor Op. 10 (1918)
Heitor VILLA-LOBOS (1887-1959)

Quartet No. 6 in E major (Quartetto Brasileiro No. 2) (1938)
Quincy PORTER (1897-1966)

Quartet No. 7 (1943)
The Stuyvesant String Quartet
Recorded 1947-50
PARNASSUS PACD 96026 [68.41]


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Full marks to Parnassus for this. Not only do we have the Hindemith Op. 10 originally released on a 10" Philharmonia LP and the equally elusive Villa-Lobos, which made a 78rpm appearance on International Records but we have the previously unpublished Quincy Porter taken from a set of transcription discs of a concert performance. This is the kind of presentation, performance and repertoire I like and it has all been splendidly well done, down to the booklet picture of the Stuyvesant Quartet as a mock poster cum record cover, plastered onto a red brick wall.

Admirers of the great American Quartets of the 1930s-1950s will spring to attention when they hear the name Stuyvesant. Yes, others were as prominent if not more so – the Coolidge, the Gordon, Curtis, Musical Arts, Paganini, the transplanted Guilet and London, the Stradivarius and plenty of others – but the Stuyvesant always sought out creative and imaginative repertoire and their changing personnel were some of the very best around. At this time the composition of the quartet was Sylvan Shulman and Bernard Robbins, violins, Ralph Hersh, viola and Alan Shulman, cello. They bring out the unexpectedly generous romanticism of the Hindemith with expressive depth, Hersh’s viola sounding strongly. In the second movement, a theme and variations, the writing for first violin is full of lyrical heights with the Stuyvesant observing dynamic markings with acute sensitivity. There is a real sense of joyous freedom in the free-moving Finale, a complex, evolutionary and formally odd one with moments of introspective withdrawal deeply imbedded into its syntax.

The rhythmic suspensions and mini dramas in Villa-Lobos’s Sixth Quartet, its twisting lines with single voices set against syncopations are all marvellously done. The Allegretto is especially evocative with the three strings playing pizzicati behind the cello’s solo and following it a repeat, this time for first violin and pizzicati trio. Villa-Lobos explores the formal parameters of conventional quartet writing, here using pizzicati as rhythmic plasticine to mould convincing sonority and drive, a dancing vitality conveyed through new means. The Andante is indeed elliptical – the notes referring to a subdued second violin line – but it lasts a full seven minutes and not the three stated - so it possesses a coherence of its own, an independence and a tangential one at that, and doesn’t really serve at all as an introduction to the finale as claimed. This is a driving and dance based movement, full of sonority and rhythmic grip.

The Quincy Porter was recorded in concert at Town Hall, New York in February 1948. There would have been few enough opportunities to acquaint oneself with his works on disc. Porter, a good string player, had recorded his own Viola Suite and the Gordon Quartet had essayed his Third Quartet; there were also some anonymous performances of Porter’s theatre music, Sixth Quartet and Flute Quintet on the obscure Yaddo label (anyone know anything about these?). There are a few clicks and some extraneous noises with swishes but nothing at all to mar or obscure listening. This is a compact three-movement work written in 1943 and premiered by the Coolidge Quartet. His own brand of sonata form is impressive and the constant rhythmic inflections co-exist with moments of real lyrical surge – melodies seem sometimes to be extracted forcibly from the texture of the music and in the first movement little perky melodic themes swirl about like glitter dust. All four players consciously adjust depth of vibrato usage in the beautiful slow movement before unleashing a finale notable for Porter’s clever manipulation of form and rhythm, teasing and precise and successful.

Throughout the Stuyvesant are compelling guides, instrumentally equal to all demands, impeccably eloquent in matters of internal balance and equalization, and acutely sensitive to colour and weight and rhythm. I loved them.

Jonathan Woolf

See also review by Rob Barnett

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