Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
String Quintet in C major D956 (1828) [43:30]
London String Quartet (John Pennington and Thomas Petre (violins): Harry Waldo Warner (viola); C Warwick Evans (cello)) with Horace Britt (cello)
rec. April 1928

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 innings.

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.

Jonathan Woolf

The LSQ were a very fine Schubert group, as their other surviving performances demonstrate, and this is no exception.