It’s curious how reissues can generate, or be seen to generate,
their own momentum. If you were an admirer of the London String
Quartet, for example, you would know that about the only recording
of theirs ever to have seen an LP transfer was the 1917 collaboration
with Gervase Elwes and pianist Frederick Kiddle in their three
78 set of Vaughan Williams’s On Wenlock Edge. And there
things rested in respect of CD reissues too until another collaborative
endeavour was released on CD by Clarinet Classics; Charles Draper’s
1917 recording, much abridged, of Brahms’s Clarinet Quintet.
But now what do we find? In recent months, after nearly eighty
or ninety years of inactivity, Pristine Audio has reissued the
Schubert Quintet with Horace Britt, and now St Laurent Studio
has reissued its own transfers of a slew of material.
Prominent among them is this magnificent recording of the Franck.
It was a mainstay of the Columbia catalogues in Britain, Australia
and the US for many years and was still admired in the 1950s
and beyond, long after it had been deleted. It also happens
to be the very best recording of the ‘third period’ LSQ – John
Pennington, Tommy Petre, Harry Waldo Warner, and C. Warwick
Evans. The first incarnation of the group was led by Albert
Sammons, and the second by James Levey. Both these players had
had lessons from Weist Hill, a leading British player of the
time. And, incidentally the first violinist approached to lead
the group wasn’t, in fact, Sammons, who had no quartet experience
in 1908, but Barry Squire, who had, but who’d soon turned down
the offer because of family reasons.
What makes this recording so convincing, so powerful? What makes
it the equal of any recorded in the first half of the twentieth
century? Firstly there’s tonal homogeneity, then there’s intensity,
and then there’s an acute sense of architecture. These are some
of the elements that produce a reading of sweep and vitality,
of sensitivity and command. Pennington’s first violin lead is
bright and penetrating, firmly focused. Petre is a sensitive,
subtle and hugely accomplished second violin, almost always
underestimated in any discussion of the group. First impressions
that Warner is placed slightly backwardly, and is not as tonally
forthcoming, are not actually true and he phrases eloquently.
Evans anchors things with his usual assurance and insight; he
was a major figure indeed.
There are no notes, merely a well reproduced picture of one
of the disc labels, and a track-listing. The disc, given the
lack of coupling, is necessarily rather short measure.
The transfers seem to have used the British Columbia pressing
(Columbia L2304/09), though the US release on 6797/02D was good,
the Australian pressing even better. This company avoids interventionist
procedures. There is no filtering, and some of the more prominent
scratches are removed one by one, they note, not via noise suppression
methods. The result is very lifelike, though there is the usual
ration of surface noise and there are similarities therefore
with some of Pearl’s, and to a degree Opus Kura’s work. It’s
a wholly different ethos to a powerfully interventionist stance
adopted by, say, Pristine Audio, the company that released their
version of the group’s Schubert Quintet. Therefore ears may
notice the side-join at 3:52 in the first movement, and just
possibly elsewhere, as well as the scrunch on the last 78 side.
The pressing and the copy used is also considerably ‘clickier’
than that used for the company’s transfer of Beethoven’s Op.132
quartet. I think there is room for all sorts of approaches,
and I can certainly put up with the shellac noise to hear the
defined and fine frequency response presented, as well as the
palpable sense of room ambience.