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
PACD 96026 and Bridge 9137 which contains Malipiero No.1,
the Debussy and Ravel, and a work - with Benny Goodman - by
As for the recording under review, Historic Recordings doesn’t
provide any notes but has hit the spot with this release.