The Virtuoso Quartet
César FRANCK (1822-1890)
String Quartet in D major, (1889-90) [43:41]

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN(1770-1827)
String Quartet in B-flat, Op.18/6 (1798-1800) [23:54]
Franz SCHUBERT(1797-1828)
Moment Musical [3:36]
Virtuoso Quartet (Marjorie Hayward (violin); Edwin Virgo (violin); Raymond Jeremy (viola); Cedric Sharpe (cello))
rec. 1925 (Franck): December 1926 (Schubert) and December 1926-January 1927 (Beethoven)
The Virtuoso Quartet - and its swanky name - was established by HMV for the express purposes of recording. In its ranks were four top-notch British chamber players. Marjorie Hayward was called the best female quartet leader heard in London since the days of Wilma Neruda. Born in 1885 she had studied with ševčik. Her second violin was the experienced Edwin Virgo, who had depped as second fiddle in the London Quartet between 1916 and 1917 when its resident incumbent Tommy Petre had gone off to war. Raymond Jeremy - Bax exponent - had premiered Elgar’s late chamber works in 1919 in a group led by Albert Sammons. And Cedric Sharpe had not long since left the Philharmonic Quartet of which he was the most able cellist, a group led by Arthur Beckwith with Eugene Goossens the second violin and Jeremy the violist. The Virtuoso did play in public, essaying for instance Bax and McEwen from manuscript in concert.
The portfolio of albums they made was to prove auspicious and in a number of cases pioneering. Hayward herself had already set down an abridged acoustic Elgar Sonata, well ahead of the game, and all four players in fact were versed in studio conditions. They set down Beethoven’s second (1924) and third Razumovsky, the Tchaikovsky, Bridge’s Three Idylls (1923), Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro, the Debussy and other smaller things too.
None of their recordings were ever reissued on LP and this is the first CD appearance of their traversals, so far as I know. The Beethoven was recorded on four black labelled HMVs [D1206-09]. In comparison with the sometimes crackly shellac of domestic early electric HMVs this transfer sounds quite bright. It’s certainly brighter and more forward than the 78 to which I listened when reviewing the disc, the sound more treble-orientated than the more middle frequency 78. It lends the playing a more urgent, keen patina and quality. Phrasing is affectionate and they are certainly careful to bring out the intensity and modernity of the start of the second movement.
The Franck was recorded in 1925, two years earlier than the Beethoven. Clearly it caused some problems because there were four days of recording stretching from January to April. It’s not wholly surprising. Recording techniques were undergoing, or about to undergo, a revolution in the switch from acoustic to electric recording. And the Franck is a difficult work to pin down, even now. It’s a shame too that this performance, good though it is on its own terms, was soon to be eclipsed by the magnificent early electric of the London Quartet, which stayed in the catalogues for many years and is a remarkable bit of playing. The shellac here on this Virtuoso late acoustic is quite steely but one can certainly listen through it to the core of the performance. I think it’s fair to say that of the foursome violist Raymond Jeremy sounds, tonally speaking, the most anachronistic. The little Schubert piece was a filler for the Beethoven and makes for a light intermission between the two big quartets.
There are no notes, as usual from this source, but cost-cutting is surely permissible when it means that one can concentrate on the core of the matter which is the recordings. Maybe this company could take a punt on some London Quartet recordings - some of the best around.
Jonathan Woolf