In the post-war decade, as one of the first all-American string quartets,
the Stuyvesant led the way in America for such ensembles as the Juilliard,
Hollywood and Fine Arts. Whereas these three quartets are well represented
on disc, the Stuyvesants have been overlooked, somewhat. Yet some
of their recordings have found their way onto CD. This is the third
issue from the Bridge label; previous installment features works
by Malipiero, Debussy and Ravel (Bridge 9137) and the Boccherini guitar quintet (Bridge 9188 - see review). Also, Parnassus
have been in on the act with an exciting programme of Hindemith, Villa-Lobos
and Porter. There’s also an Historic
Recordings disc of Bloch (No. 1) and Shostakovich Piano Quintet.
Founded in 1938 by the two Shulman brothers - Sylvan the violinist
and Alan the cellist/composer - the quartet’s activities were
severely curtailed by the outbreak of the Second World War. In 1945,
the brothers reformed the quartet and changes in personnel welcomed
Bernard Robbins as second violin and Ralph Hersch as viola. This new
line-up gave its first concert on 9 December 1945 with works by Hindemith,
Shostakovich and Porter. Renowned for their adventurous repertoire,
emphasis was placed on the twentieth century. Yet they did not neglect
the standard classical repertoire. In 1950, due to dissatisfaction
with their recording company, they established their own ‘Philharmonia’
label, together with the legendary recording engineer Norman Pickering,
who was also a horn player. This enterprise was self-financed and
the first fruits of this commercial undertaking was a recording of
Malipiero’s Rispetti e Strambotti (String Quartet No.
1) in July 1950. For the next four years they produced an eclectic
mix but, as the Stuyvesant Quartet, recorded only six albums of which the two Mozart Quartets
featured here are a part; the Brahms Quintet hails from 1947. They
found their ideal recording venue in the Village Lutheran Church,
Bronxville, New York. Eventually, commercial considerations and more
lucrative offers resulted in the disbanding of the quartet and the
demise of the Philharmonia label in 1954.
The Brahms Clarinet Quintet was recorded in 1947, predating the Mozart
Philharmonia recordings, and thus lacking the advantage of the Bronxville
acoustic. Nevertheless, it is a fine version, fleet of foot, and sensitive
in its realization. The players manage to maintain the ebb and flow,
and achieve the subtleties and nuances of Brahms’ writing. Alfred
Gallodoro is an ideal partner, perfectly attuned to his colleagues’
interpretation. His playing is expressive and eloquent. Balance between
the clarinet and strings is satisfactory. Gallodoro’s sound
is not the most mellifluous, indeed some may find it lean. Those used
to the deep, rich and mellow sound of the likes of Reginald Kell and
Jack Brymer, with their more soft-textured tones, may find the vibrato-less
clarinet sound here rather dry.
The Bronxville acoustic affords the Mozart quartets a brighter, clearer
and more forward sound. These are well-polished performances, with
intonation always spot-on. Tempo and dynamics are well-judged. Tone
and balance is ideal. This aural improvement justifies the Stuyvesant’s
decision to ‘go it alone’ with their Philharmonia label.
These are bright, sunny readings imbued with charm and elegance. There
is a definite sense of ensemble, with the players listening to each
other, subsuming their own personalities for the good of the whole.
One senses real passion here. I’ve lived with this CD now for
two weeks, and listened to it three or four times. What strikes me
is that the playing always sounds fresh.
There is no doubting that these recordings were, for the Stuyvesants,
a labour of love. At 80 minutes this is a generously well-filled disc.
The notes by Jay Shulman, Alan Shulman’s son, are excellent,
informative and very well written. I see they are a slightly condensed
version of a fine excellent article in CRC Summer 2005, which I would
urge readers and collectors of this publication to seek out. I would
also issue a plea to Bridge to give us more of this quartet’s