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Jonathan Woolf
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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
String Quartet in C major Op.76 No.3 (Hob.III:77) "Emperor" (c. 1799) [19:36]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
String Quartet No. 1 in C minor, Op.51, No.1 (c.1868-73) [29:03]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
String Quartet No. 3 in A major, Op.41/3 (1842) [25:50]
Schneiderhan Quartet
rec. April and October 1944, Vienna; Senderaum, radio studio recording
MELOCLASSIC MC4001 [74:31]

The string quartet that bore Wolfgang Schneiderhan’s name was founded in 1938 and survived until 1951. Otto Strasser was second violin, Ernst Morawec violist, and Richard Krotschak cellist. Morawec was the oldest and most experienced chamber player of the foursome, having played in the Mairecker-Buxbaum Quartet from 1921, with which group he premiered Zemlinsky’s Third String Quartet in 1924. The Schneiderhan Quartet enjoyed great prestige in Vienna, and was especially liked by Richard Strauss who was a known admirer of Schneiderhan the violinist. In this release, all sporting excellent sound quality, we hear three quartets performed for Vienna radio on three separate occasions in 1944.

Their Haydn (April 1944) is immensely self-confident, spick and span in its brisk, almost brusque first-movement purposefulness. The element of rhythmic bumptiousness is there, so too opportunities for more rubato-laden phraseology, but the overriding impression is of a somewhat tensile but brilliantly cool approach, not at all avuncular or especially wittily phrased. In short, zesty-virtuosic. The slow movement, with the Austrian hymn, is by contrast spun out with a certain ardent quality, though never over-taxed by too much tonal colour, and thus able to make its expressive points the better. One can hear Morawec at great length in the Menuetto, attractively so, though the finale reverts to the rather brittle and blandly extrovert virtuosity of the first movement. In October they taped Brahms’s Quartet in C minor, Op.51 No.1. Architecturally this makes an interesting comparison with the famous Busch Quartet set; both quartets plump for almost identical tempi in the outer movements but the Schneiderhan – predictably, perhaps – press ahead in the Romanze. Their collective ensemble sonority is more horizontal than that of the older group, and Schneiderhan’s tight silvery tone makes a wholly different impression from that of Adolf Busch’s more expressively freighted playing.

At the very end of October, they were again in the studios of Reichssender Vienna, from which event we hear the Schumann A major Quartet, Op. 41 No.3. In many ways this is the pick of the trio of quartet performances. They deal justly with the sentiment of the slow movement and are suitably athletic elsewhere. The upper voices can dominate for stretches, the internal balance of the group being often weighted toward the leader’s own sonority. Schneiderhan was a good decade younger than Krotschak, over twenty-years younger than Morawec with the other two somewhere in between; his seems to have been the dominating influence, not merely as primarius but as tonalist.

The disc comes complete with some excellent biographical details about the four men and an attractive in situ booklet photograph from one of their recording sessions. These are certainly amongst the earliest of the group’s surviving performances and will appeal strongly to its many admirers.

Jonathan Woolf