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Jonathan Woolf
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alternatively Crotchet

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
String Quartet No.18 in A major K464 (1785) [32:38]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
String Quartet No.12 in E flat major Op.127 (1825) [35:37]
Amadeus Quartet
rec. Funkhaus. Saal 2, WDR Cologne, February 1956
MEDICI ARTS MM007-2 [68:26]

The Amadeus recorded both quartets twice in their commercial discography; K464 in 1951 and 1964 and Op.127 in 1963 and again in 1978. There must be a number of other broadcasts slumbering in radio and other archives. Their performances in concert were almost invariably more communicative and that much more forceful and both these 1956 examples demonstrate the fact if not graphically then subtly.
One would hardly expect graphic differences in any case. A cursory check of tempo correlations shows how stable the Amadeus’s conceptions remained, how little subject to vagary or caprice.  What is true is that there’s more of a sense of occasion in the Cologne broadcast than in the two studio recordings of K464, especially in the outer movements. The 1964 recording was rather studio recessed but it’s not this alone that accounts for the greater sense of immediacy and tactile interchange, which the quartet brought to bear in Cologne. The timings remained almost identical in the last three movements. The scherzo is fine, with a particularly good trio and plenty of shifting colour patterns. In the finale we have the advantage of hearing Schidlof really playing out in a way that studio conditions seemingly didn’t encourage or balance engineers suppressed or Schidlof himself didn’t feel acceptable in terms of balance. Here it sounds fine – assertive without being aggressive.
The Beethoven Op.127 receives a powerful and involving performance. Tully Potter is right to characterise it as intense. Superficially it too differs little in correlative or comparative terms from the commercial readings but it differs in intensities of attack and in a sense of greater weight. Such things can lead to brief moments of executant frailty and one such occurs in the slow movement when Brainin’s intonation wanders off course. But that is a small price to pay for the level of corporate sonority, for the consistently high level of expressive control and the acute sense of pacing and architectural control wielded in each movement.
So even if you have one, or other, or both of the studio recordings made over the years by the Amadeus you may still wish to hear them in the studio, in excellent sound, on tour, when the temperature was slightly higher and the results even more consistently involving.
Jonathan Woolf


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