Things are looking up for the London String Quartet. A leading
American company is currently working on the group’s live Library
of Congress performances, a truly splendid haul, and will be
including an appendix disc with commercial recordings. A long
Tully Potter article on the LSQ has also appeared recently in
Classic Recordings Quarterly, setting out the background and
itemising many of their recordings. Still, there’s a lot yet
to be done. The vast majority of their recordings have yet to
be transferred. None of their many Vocalions (abridged Elgar,
Kreisler, complete Waldo Warner) have been transferred. Of their
electric Columbia sets the most important include the Trout,
Quartettsatz, Bridge Three Idylls, Beethoven Op.132, Franck,
Death and the Maiden, Dvorák American – though
I’d also like to see their Haydn transferred. I’m sure collectors
have copies; I happen to have almost all their recordings on
78, though one that has eluded me is the rare late acoustic
Trout (they made two recordings), so if someone would
like to send that to me for my birthday, I won’t complain.
This Schubert performance, recorded in the ‘centenary’ year
of 1928, teamed the LSQ with cellist Horace Britt for the Quintet,
the second such recording to be issued – the first was on National
Gramophonic Society. You will almost certainly not have come
across the LSQ recording unless you can play 78s, because the
Budapest Quartet and Benar Heifetz and the Pro Arte with Anthony
Pini tended to usurp the earlier recording from the racks, though
it did stay in the catalogues until January 1940, so had a good
The performance is in the bright, crisp and streamlined ‘third
generation’ LSQ style. The first generation had been led by
Albert Sammons and the second – possibly its very best years
– by that superb chamber player James Levey. With John Pennington
now first violin the bright, penetrating sound he brought, and
his assured, confidently sensitive lead mark out the playing.
There are the full complement of portamenti, and a sensitive
though not sentimental approach to the great slow movement.
Some may crave a greater sense of frisson here, but there is
something nobly compelling about this level of relative austerity.
The buoyant lissom Scherzo is marvellously dispatched, the warmly
textured B section a genuine highpoint. And the communicative
and elegant assurance of the finale ensures that the disc –
43 minutes in length – ends on a high point. The LSQ were a
very fine Schubert group, as their other surviving performances
demonstrate, and this is no exception.
Regarding the transfer I was happy to hear that surface noise
has been eliminated. There was a difficult side join at 7:24
however. XR graphology has tended to exaggerate dynamics, so
that the sound is now very bright, and there’s even a razory
quality to things that can only have been introduced via XR.
It’s not in the 78s, either in the American or British sets.