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Jonathan Woolf
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The Legendary Amadeus Quartet
String quartets by Brahms, Haydn, Hoffstetter, Mendelssohn & Schubert - see end of review for details
rec. London 1951-57.
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 93807 [7 CDs: 463:37]

Experience Classicsonline

Now that these performances are out of copyright it’s a free for all for these DG traversals. This seven CD Brilliant box is therefore a straight clone of the corresponding set issued by DG in their ‘Original Masters’ line on 474 730-2 so if you have that box you have no need to duplicate. At its enticing price bracket though, it might make a good prospect for anyone wanting a corpus of performances made by the quartet in the years between 1951 and 1957.
There’s still some whiskery surface noise on the earliest recordings not least the Hoffstetter, still then flying under Haydn’s flag. Its slow movement though is a real charmer. The Seven Last Words, which is main focus of the first disc, is notable for the expressive dignity of the first Largo. Both the leading British quartets of the time, the Amadeus and the Griller, recorded this – the Amadeus for DG and the Griller earlier on 78s for Decca. Although their tonal qualities were very different they both brought immense powers of concentration to bear and are equally deserving of study, not least the Amadeus’s truly coruscating concluding Presto.  The two Op.74 quartets are mono though in perfectly good sound. Of their Haydn one of the most immediately impressive performances is Op.54 No.1, which is in stereo, and sports a wonderfully warm second movement and a finely chiselled and rhythmically incisive Menuetto. Hardly less impressive is the powerfully aerated legato of the Adagio of its opus companion in C major. The gracioso and contrasting bucolic elements of Op.74 No.1 are well attended to though occasionally one feels a lack of real weight and body in the sound.  
There’s no Mozart in this set – one of their most admired bodies of recordings – but there is Schubert. The E flat major D87 quartet is genial, the B flat major D112 fluent and not – in contradistinction to expectations – over-vibrated to the detriment of the musical argument. Rosamunde sports verdant lyricism and is sonorously balanced. The G major D887 shows the astute structural control exercised by the foursome especially in one of Schubert’s longest and most taxing opening movements – eloquently controlled indeed. Norbert Brainin is quoted in the booklet notes as saying that their recording of Death and the Maiden was ‘unique’ and that the Amadeus didn’t sentimentalise it, as other groups had and did, but presented it dramatically, turning perceptions of Schubert ‘upside down’. Though he inferred this related to all their performances maybe he was referring to the stereo remake. In any case this earlier performance is strong and powerful though in truth other quartets had explored the tensile hinterland of the work just as well, if not better, than the Amadeus. The sole Mendelssohn, the Capriccio Op.81 is delicious.
Current tastes will however probably find their Brahms quartets the most impressive. This is a question of sonority, weight and an appropriate expressive gravity. There’s very little to choose between these performances and the Brahms cycle that the quartet set down at the end of the decade, other than questions of recorded sound. In both cases the Amadeus prove cogent and strong minded, never sentimentalised, guides.
And as such, given the state of play in the Amadeus’ duplicatory discography, this set is valuable.
Jonathan Woolf

Full listing
CD 1 [70:54]
Attributed to Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809) actually Roman HOFFSTETTER (1742-1815)
String Quartet in F major Op. 3 No. 5 "Serenade" Hob III:17 (c.1764) [13:33]
Joseph HAYDN
Die sieben letzten Worte unseres Erlösers am Kreuze (The Seven Last Words of Our Saviour on the Cross) Op. 51, Hob III:50-56 (1787) [55:16]
CD 2 [59:51]
Joseph HAYDN
String Quartet in G major Op. 54 No. 1 “Tost” (1788)[20:44]
String Quartet in C major Op. 54 No. 2 (1788)[18:22]
String Quartet in B flat major Op. 64 No. 3 (1790)[20:23]
CD 3 [70:16]
Joseph HAYDN
String Quartet in C major Op. 74 No. 1 (1793) [19:46]
String Quartet in G minor Op. 74 No. 3 "The Rider" (Reiterquartett) (1793) [19:07]
String Quartet in G major Op. 77 No. 1 (1799) [19:46]
String Quartet in B flat major Op. 103 (1803)[11:06]
CD 4 [51:06]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
String Quartet in E flat major Op. posth. 125 No. 1, D87 (1813) [19:07]
String Quartet in B flat major D112 (1814) [26:01]
Felix MENDESLSSOHN (1809-1847)
Capriccio in E minor Op. 81 No.3 (1843) [5:24]
CD 5 [73:51]
String Quartet in A minor D804 "Rosamunde"  (1824)[30:48]
String Quartet in G major Op. Posth. 161 D887 (1826) [43:02]
CD 6 [76:44]
String Quartet in D minor D810 "Der Tod und das Mädchen" (Death and the Maiden) (1824) [37:09]
Quartettsatz in C minor D703 (1820) [8:31]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
String Quartet in C minor Op. 51 No. 1 (1873) [30:48]
CD 7 [60:55]
Johannes BRAHMS
String Quartet in A minor Op. 51 No. 2 (1873) [29:49]
String Quartet in B flat major Op. 67 (1875) [31:08]


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