It’s rather curious
that this is, according to Biddulph’s documentation, the first
appearance of all five recordings on CD. Partly this must be
because the greater ubiquity of their post-War cycle and recordings,
commercial and live. These earlier traversals have rather lain
in the shadow of more modern performances by the all-Russian
foursome; when these five sets were made of course there was
still one Hungarian in the quartet.
Though the tonal
homogeneity was only to increase on the acrimonious departure
of the original violist Istvan Ipolyi we still find that compelling
warmth and ochre sonority that the Budapest cultivated in its
best days. That’s immediately evident in the Quartet in G where
there’s also commendable aeration of textures. The leader Roisman
was always an elegant player – hear his accomplished and authoritative
lead in Op.18 No.3 – and the four bring a songful flow to the
same quartet’s slow movement. In the Harp they manage
to vest expressive weight at a good tempo, and bring out the
vocalised, almost operatic quality of the Adagio with care,
delicacy and rhythmic lift. In fact their rhythmic drive in
this quartet is of particular subtlety.
Things are even
better with the second Rasumovsky. The cello line is coiled
and dynamic and they take a persuasive tempo in the slow movement.
In fact they always did, even in 1960 when their tonal resources
were on the wane but their sense of emotive warmth was barely
compromised. The scherzo is daintily phrased and the finale
sports a fine pomposo gait, with both Roisman and second violin
Alexander Schneider blending together with great élan. The Op.130
quartet sounds rather more immediate than Op.59 No.2 even though
it as recorded somewhat earlier. This is a fine performance
though not one I’d elevate above a number of contemporary discs.
The chocolaty warmth of the lower strings is especially apparent
in the Finale – but not as much as say, the Léner Quartet, who
were past masters (and genuine all-Hungarian ones, unlike the
Budapest) of voluble tonal warmth in this repertoire. Still,
at this period in their growth the Budapest hadn’t developed
their very mannered habit of mincing up the Alla Danza tadesca
of Op.130, for which only grateful thanks can be in order.
The notes are by
Tully Potter and are broadly common to both discs. As usual
Biddulph dispense with matrix details and original issue numbers.
Given the group and given the repertoire, and the potential
for discographic confusion, this is an unwise omission. Of even
more concern are the transfers. Biddulph has issued 1930s Budapest
material before in open, natural sounding transfers. Rick Torres
has preferred significant noise reduction to present very smooth
sounding transfers but ones that are compromised by too many
ticks and pops and by too much treble starvation. One hesitates
to be cavalier in ones criticism but the aeration that gave
the HMV’s life is here blanched away. It doesn’t render these
performances entirely unattractive, simply that more care was
needed in their presentation.