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Hindemith as Interpreter – the Amar-Hindemith Quartet
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
String Quartet in E flat K428 [23.46]
Béla BARTÓK
String Quartet No.2 [33.23]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
String Quartet in F, Op.95 [19.27]
The Amar-Hindemith String Quartet
rec. 1926
ARBITER 139 [76.47]


Collectors’ eyes will swivel when they see the name of the Amar-Hindemith String Quartet. These are rare 78 sets, early electrics, and they regularly reach a tidy three-figure sum as anyone who has tried - and failed - to acquire them can testify. The quartet comprised Licco Amar, Walter Caspar, Paul and Rudolf Hindemith, at least for these 1926 recordings. The aesthetic of the quartet was brisk, businesslike and tonally rather retrogressive. Its repertoire was, conversely, sharply attuned to contemporary trends, as one might perhaps expect given its viola seat occupant.

The roll-call of composers they performed is extensive but Odak, Sekles, Vogel, Jirak, Jarnach, Beck and Finke are amongst the less well known – and Delius, Debussy, Malipiero, Milhaud, Reger and Schoenberg amongst the better known. They also devoted time to the classical repertoire and indeed we have examples here of their ancient and modern faces with Mozart and Beethoven surrounding the first ever recording of a Bartók quartet, the second.
 
Given Lionel Tertis’s rather sour verdict on his colleague Hindemith – his antipode in matters of voluptuous tonal resources – one might expect The Amar-Hindemith to correspond to certain Germanic traits of string playing. And this they faithfully do. They are tonally rather dry and their music making is straightforward really to a fault. Allied to a certain rigidity comes a rather limited dynamic response. This comes across in all three works though it’s most noticeable in the Mozart and Beethoven. In the latter I sense a lack of optimal tonal congruity between violinists Amar and Caspar, though it’s fair to say that Hindemith was not ideal in this respect either.
 
Their rather thin tones, lack of vibrance and pervasive portamneti mark out this Bartók as a most unusual performance. It will be pretty much unlike any other performance you will have heard. The slow movement is expressive but in a very particular way – one unwarmed by any tonal drama, with its structure revealed through acute pointing. Hearing Hindemith playing Bartók is in itself something of a historic coup and if your previous experience of his viola playing was limited to the string trio sides he made with Goldberg and Feuermann or the sonata recordings he made in America then these sides will be revelatory.
 
Set against the deficiencies of these three recordings as successful performances is the historical significance of this group and its pioneering work in music making in the 1920s. The notes are by Tully Potter and are first class. He mentions Busch of course, it’s true, but resists the temptation to bash anyone. The transfers have dealt well with the pitching though these are rare sides and I don’t know how many sets the Arbiter team was able to access. For this reason there is a fair amount of blasting from time to time and a slightly jerky side join in the first movement of the Bartók. Surface noise is relatively high but perfectly acceptable – treble frequencies give air and transparency to the upper parts and this is greatly to be appreciated.
 
This is an important disc. The Amar-Hindemith Quartet’s legacy has been unavailable now for many years and whatever one’s feelings for these performances and for the group, pro and contra, they are necessary acquisitions for anyone with any interest in the string quartet on disc in the first half of the twentieth century.

Jonathan Woolf

 

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