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The Budapest String Quartet
CD 1 [75:14]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
String Quintet in C D956 (1828) [44:47]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
String Quartet No.1 in C minor Op.51 No.1 (c.1868-73) [30:15]
CD 2 [67:07]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
String Quartet No.2 in A minor Op.51 No.2 (c.1868-73) [32:01]
String Quartet No.3 in B flat Op.67 (1876) [34:49]
Budapest String Quartet
Benar Heifetz (second cello)
rec. September 1941 (Schubert) May 1950 (Quartet in C minor) and December 1954 (remainder)
BIDDULPH 802202 [75:14 + 67:07]
Experience Classicsonline

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.

The programme 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.

Jonathan Woolf




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