CD & Download: Pristine
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
String Quartet in G major Op.77 No.1 Hob: III: 81 (1799) [22:51]
String Quartet in E Flat major Op.64 No.6 Hob: III:68 (1790) [17:30]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
String Quartet in D major K155 (K134a) (1772) [10:21]
Quartetto Italiano (Paolo Borciani (violin I); Elisa Pegreffi (violin
II); Piero Farulli (viola); Franco Rossi (cello))
rec. July 1952, Santa Cecilia, Rome, and November 1948, West Hampstead,
London (Haydn, Op.64 No.6)
PRISTINE AUDIO PACM077 [50:55]
This disc takes us back to the early days of the Quartetto Italiano.
Founded in 1945, its first important engagements outside Italy
followed in 1947, and it soon after gave the world premiere
of Villa-Lobos’s Ninth Quartet. It was still the ‘New’
Italian Quartet (Nuovo Quartetto Italiano) when Decca signed
the ensemble and it began its famed series of discs, having,
in 1951, dispensed with the ‘Nuovo’.
The Haydn Op.64 No.6 quartet was recorded over two days in November
1948. It reveals the light, wristy and bright qualities the
group espoused before their later absorption of a somewhat heavier
tonal weight. They are decidedly lighter than, say, the Amadeus,
whose slightly later recording shows a more vertically dense
response. By contrast there’s something of the French
school in the Quartetto Italiano, in the same way that there
was often something of the Czech school in certain Russian string
players. The sound is youthful, tight, and brightly focused.
They’re a touch quicker than the Amadeus and phrase with
warm linearity. There’s great nuance in this playing,
great flexibility, though not much sign of the rhythmic problems
that sometimes afflicted the group.
By the time they came to record the other two quartets in this
disc, they’d had an important and long-lastingly influential
meeting with Wilhelm Furtwängler. He encouraged them toward
a greater degree of expression. Perhaps he found their relative
lightness of tone antipathetic to expression in Beethoven and
Haydn; or at least to expression as he saw and heard it. In
any case there wasn’t an immediate change of direction
and by 1952 they were still largely the bright ensemble of a
few years earlier. Haydn’s G major quartet, Op.77 No.1,
is daintier than the 1951 Amadeus recording, though the word
is not used pejoratively. The slow movement is movingly realised,
quite slow and mellifluous, and there’s refreshing vitality
in the Minuet and finale. The little Mozart quartet is also
bright toned, and warmly phrased in the slow movement. They
returned to this quartet for Philips in 1970, but I’m
not aware that they ever returned to the two Haydns in the studio.
The XR work has been used to enhance the quite dry Santa Cecilia
acoustic; its use did not strike me as unreasonable. These were,
in the main, well recorded performances either in Rome or London.
It all makes for a delightful souvenir of the quartet at its
most youthful and freshest.