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CD & Downloads: Historic Recordings

Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Piano Quintet in G minor, Op. 57 (1940) [29:15]
Ernest BLOCH (1880-1959)
String Quartet No.1 (1916) [47:38]
Vivian Rivkin (piano)
Stuyvesant Quartet
rec. May 1941 (Shostakovich) and October 1939 (Bloch)

Experience Classicsonline

As I’ve written before, admirers of the great American Quartets of the 1930s-1950s period will spring to attention when they hear the name Stuyvesant. Yes, others were as prominent if not more so - the Coolidge, the Gordon, Curtis, Musical Arts, Paganini, the transplanted Guilet and London, the Stradivarius and plenty of others - but the Stuyvesant always sought out creative and imaginative repertoire and their changing personnel were some of the very best around. At one time the composition of the quartet was Sylvan Shulman and Bernard Robbins, violins, Ralph Hersh, viola and Alan Shulman, cello, but for these 1939-41 inscriptions the line up included both Shulmans and violist Louis Kievman; the second violin was Harry Glickman for the Shostakovich and Zelly Smirnoff for the Bloch.
The American recording industry made headway early with Shostakovich. Stokowski and Rodzinski were leading exponents of some of the symphonies - of the two Stokowski was the more committed - and there was also activity in the chamber repertoire. This was particularly true in the case of the Piano Quintet where Vivian Rivkin and the Stuyvesant Quartet recorded the work the year after it had been completed. The Quartet also notched up the First Quartet in its premiere Western recording.
Fine string tone and a first class rapport with Rivkin mark out this 1941 performance. This aggregation, after all, gave the work its American premiere. The soliloquies are full of character, and often moving, the fugal section chiselled and knowing. Expressive unanimity is a hallmark, whilst as for Rivkin, he certainly captures the brittle Shostakovich piano sound, sounding uncannily like a xylophone in the latter stages of the Quintet. The tolling motif in the Scherzo is well calibrated, so too the foreshadowing of the later Second Piano Concerto. Full marks too for the engineering team capturing a good range of dynamics. A few clicks hardly bar pleasure at this finely recorded artefact that’s been well transferred to silver disc. It bears an important place in the discography of the work. The composer himself of course left behind a recording with the Beethoven Quartet.
The companion work was recorded earlier, and is Bloch’s magisterial, expansive and intense First Quartet. If your historical knowledge of this work is predicated on the Griller recording for Decca in 1954, then you will be in for something of a shock. The Stuyvesant is much faster and its tautness doesn’t come with any loss of intensity. It’s a genuinely valuable difference of approach. The Stuyvesant, recorded c.1939, conveys plenty of the nervous vitality inherent in the music. Rhythms remain flexible, the promotion of colour is laudable, and there is overall singing buoyancy to its approach. Additionally the recording was good, and the transfer - with imperceptible side joins - equally so.
I can strongly recommend the following two other Stuyvesant discs - Hindemith, Villa-Lobos and Quincy Porter quartets on Parnassus PACD 96026 and Bridge 9137 which contains Malipiero No.1, the Debussy and Ravel, and a work - with Benny Goodman - by Alan Shulman.
As for the recording under review, Historic Recordings doesn’t provide any notes but has hit the spot with this release.
Jonathan Woolf 








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