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)
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.
Jonathan Woolf
A delightful souvenir of the quartet at its most youthful and freshest.