Biddulph is doing some first class restoration work with respect
to the Budapest Quartet’s recordings of the 1940s and 1950s, filling
gaps and creating well-designed programmes. This is good curatorial
work, fine custodianship of an august body of work. David Hermann’s
transfers are also pretty good albeit just a touch too bell jarred
in the 1941 Schubert for my own tastes. The only thing Biddulph
neglects to do, as I point out with the frequency of a fishwife,
is to provide matrix/catalogue numbers. I know the typography
is thus easier but once again, chaps … please!
I love the Schubert;
not admire, love. This is the Budapest at their early all-Russian,
thus Hungarian-divested, peak. The sense of corporate sonority
is overwhelming. The tonal congruity is simply astounding
and the architectural and expressive indices of the work are
both held in perfect balance. It’s a performance, to put it
simply, of the utmost sympathy and of enormous concentration.
It’s also the best, by far, of their recordings of the work
and a testament, if any were needed, of their greatness. To
those who may have been dismayed or unmoved by their later
stereo recordings, this is the kind of recording that admirers
have in mind when they talk of the Budapest.
might be considered bipartite. The Schubert was recorded in
1941 and the trio of Brahms quartets followed in 1950 (C minor)
and 1954 (A minor and B flat). Whilst I don’t think that any
of the three quite measures up to the standards of perception
and tonal breadth heard in the Schubert these are still fine
sounding performances. The Budapest re-recorded the First
in November 1963 by which time they were effectively at the
end of their long and illustrious career. They had long since
forfeited the lustrous in their playing and it was intonationally
and otherwise technically impaired. This was at the same sessions
when they recorded the companion quartets as well with similarly
erratic results. No.2 had been recorded back in 1945, and
the B flat way back in 1933 – my favourite amongst all their
Brahms recordings for the sheer glamour of the sound with
the Hungarian Istvan Ipolyi still occupying the viola chair.
But in the early to mid-1950s things still sounded well. Jac
Gorodetzky was second violin, having replaced Edgar Ortenberg
who never fitted in, and though the former suffered horribly
from stage fright he was better in the studio.
Vital and exciting
these are excellent examples of the Budapest’s way with this
core repertory. With the exception of the B flat these are
the Budapest Quartet’s best extant performances of the individual
works as well.