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The Legendary Amadeus Quartet
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809) String Quartets: G major Op. 54/1 [20:46]; C major Op. 54/2 [18:32]; Bb major Op. 64/3 [20:25]; C major Op. 74/1 [19:47]; G minor Op. 74/3 [19:17]; G major Op. 77/1 [19:46]; Bb major Op. 103 [11:06]; “Die sieben letzten worte unseres Erlösers am Kreuze” (The Seven Last Words of Our Saviour on the Cross) Op. 51 [57:25]; Roman HOFFSTETTER (1742-1815) (Attrib) String Quartet in F major (formerly attributed to Joseph Haydn as Op. 3/5) [13:29]; Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828) String Quartets: No. 10 in Eb major Op. 125/1 D87 [19:06]; No. 8 in Bb major Op. 168 D112 [26:19]; No. 13 in A minor Op. 29 D804 (“Rosamunde”) [30:48]; No. 15 in G major Op. 161 D887 [42:59]; No. 14 in D minor D810 (“Death and the Maiden”) [37:07]; No. 12 in C minor D 703 (Quartett-Satz) [8:31]; Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847) Capriccio in E minor Op. 81/3 [5:24]; Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897) Quartets: No. 1 in C minor Op. 51/1 [30:48]; No. 2 in A minor Op. 51/2 [29:37]; No. 3 in Bb major Op. 67 [31:08]
Amadeus Quartet (Norbert Brainin (violin I); Siegmund Nissel (violin II); Peter Schidlof (viola); Martin Lovett (cello))
rec. 1951-1957, Conway Hall, Abbey Road, and Hampstead Parish Church, London and Beethovensaal, Hanover
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 93807 [7 CDs: 70:54 + 59:51 + 70:16 + 51:06 + 73:51 + 76:44 + 60:55]

Experience Classicsonline


Maybe we have become used to amazing bargains in reissues, especially where Brilliant Classics are concerned. That said, there can surely be little doubt that this must be one of their best yet. All of the Brahms Quartets, many of Schubert’s best known, and a representative selection of Haydn’s, together with a brief taste of Mendelssohn’s, and all played by one of the greatest groups of players of the last century. I have seen it offered for less than Ł13, but it would be well worth having for several times that.

The members of the Amadeus Quartet first played together in 1947 and made their London début in the following year at a concert underwritten by Imogen Holst. That concert was very well received and from then until they disbanded on the death of Peter Schidlof in 1987 they were rightly regarded as one of the foremost Quartets in the world. They made many studio and broadcast recordings, of which the present box contains a selection of those set down in their early years. The notes by Ates Orga give details of the background to some of these recordings but not to all. The most interesting are those made for the Westminster company, including Haydn’s “Seven Last Words” and the Schubert “Quartett-Satz”. Some of the others were made for HMV although the box appears to imply that all are licensed from Deutsche Grammophon. Whilst it would certainly have been interesting to know more about the origins of these recordings, what matters is their substance, and that is unfailingly worth hearing.

Although some of the recordings do show their age in terms of boxy acoustic and occasional poor balance, I had no difficulty in forgetting this very quickly to concentrate on the performances. These are consistently well rehearsed and thought through. Even where you might legitimately prefer other performance decisions to have been taken there is never any doubt about the careful consideration which obviously went into them. They are very affectionate and finely characterized performances, especially the mature Haydn Quartets where the players respond unerringly to each quick change of mood and musical character. These deserve repeated listening, and the set would be worth having for the first three discs alone, although in fact the same could be said of the other four. It may be that the very sweet tone and occasional over-dominance of Norbert Brainin, the first violinist, is somewhat old-fashioned at times, but, as I said at the start, this set must be regarded as an amazing bargain which can be recommended to anyone with the slightest interest in these composers or performers.

There are good if at times too brief notes by Ates Orga. There seems to be no consistent policy in respect of repeats, but presumably that was dictated largely by the time available on the original records. All in all, a very desirable issue which must surely be followed in due course by their superb Mozart and Beethoven recordings.

John Sheppard

see also review by Jonathan Woolf






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