The Virtuoso String Quartet - Volume 2
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
String Quartet in G minor Op.10 (1893) [25:11]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
String Quartet Op.44 No.3 — Second Movement (1838) [3:53]
Carl Ditters von DITTERSDORF (1739-1799)
String Quartet No.5 in E flat — Minuet (1788) [3:50]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
String Quartet in E flat Op.127 (1824) [32:15]
Virtuoso Quartet - Marjorie Hayward (violin); Edwin Virgo (violin); Raymond Jeremy (viola); Cedric Sharpe (cello)
rec. 1925-26, London

It’s a pleasure to welcome another CD devoted to restorations of the Virtuoso Quartet’s most distinguished 78 recordings. I reviewed the first volume in this series some time ago. Briefly, for those unfamiliar with the name, The Virtuoso Quartet - and its swanky name - was established by HMV for the express purposes of recording. In its ranks were four top-notch British chamber players. Marjorie Hayward was called the best female quartet leader heard in London since the days of Wilma Neruda. Born in 1885 she had studied with Ševčik. Her second violin was the experienced Edwin Virgo, who had depped as second fiddle in the London Quartet between 1916 and 1917 when its resident incumbent Tommy Petre had gone off to war. Raymond Jeremy - Bax exponent - had premiered Elgar’s late chamber works in 1919 in a group led by Albert Sammons. And Cedric Sharpe had not long since left the Philharmonic Quartet of which he was the most able cellist, a group led by Arthur Beckwith with Eugene Goossens the second violin and Jeremy the violist. The Virtuoso did play in public, essaying for instance Bax and McEwen from manuscript in concert.

I am pleased to note that these performances, which I’ve long known in their only appearance, on 78s, are as good as the first instalment of Franck, Beethoven’s Op.18/6 and the little Schubert filler. In fact they pretty much establish the Virtuoso, albeit retrospectively, as one of the finest quartets recording in the mid to the later 1920s. This may seem like a restrictive period, but there were an awful lot of outstanding quartets recording at the time, and though the Virtuoso did continue until 1936, they made no recordings after 1929. The Debussy is particularly interesting in that it was also pressed and issued in France, something of an honour for a British quartet recording a French work — in fact my own album set is a French pressing. The opening movement is taken at a terrific lick, and ensemble is superbly maintained. Violist Raymond Jeremy’s tone is rather dry but he always phrased with great imagination and subtlety. The pizzicatos of the second movement ring out in this very well defined early electric 1925 HMV and the slow movement has a rather lovely curve to it, Marjorie Hayward leading with effortless assurance. The elfin Mendelssohn was a filler for the Debussy, and the Dittersdorf was similarly so for the Beethoven.

The Beethoven transfer is slightly steelier than the Debussy but the recording certainly manages to enshrine some explosive unisons from the quartet, especially for the time; though it should be noted that the recording was made over a large period of sessions, which was something of a familiar tale for this group (September and December 1925 and September to October 1926 if you’re counting). Hayward’s trills are of well nigh electric velocity, and again she leads with admirable perception.

This is another well transferred, and successful release from Historic Recordings. As usual there are no notes, but thoughtful listening will tell you that the performances enshrined in this 65 minute disc are of genuine distinction.

Jonathan Woolf

Thoughtful listening will tell you that these performances are of genuine distinction.