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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
String Quartets: Op.18 No.2 in G [21.36]; Op.18 No.3 in D [22.25]; Op.74 in E flat Harp [28.33]
Budapest String Quartet
Recorded 1935-38
BIDDULPH 80221-2 [73.32]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
String Quartets: Op.59 No.2 [30.31]; Op.130 in B flat [33.29]
Budapest String Quartet
Recorded 1933-35
BIDDULPH 80222-2 [64.36]

 

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.

Jonathan Woolf

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