Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
String Quartet No.11 in C major, Op.61 B 121 (1881) [33:09]
Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
Concertino (1925) [15:26]
Gordon Quartet
Rudolf Firkušný (piano); Clark Brody (clarinet); David Weber (clarinet); John Barrow (horn); Harold Goltzer (bassoon)
rec. 1948, New York

This restoration is ‘School of 1948’. The two recordings were made in New York for the Concert Hall label, often a repository of fine things, but ones not as often mined for CD transfer as should be the case. The focus is on the Gordon String Quartet, whose discs Forgotten Records has again wisely decided to bring back to life. They play Dvořák’s Op.61 Quartet (No.11, B121) in what I believe to be the work’s first appearance on disc. The quartet – Jacques Gordon, Urico Rossi, David Dawson and Fritz Maag – were fine instrumentalists and astute musicians. Due to timing constraints, I assume, they don’t make the first movement exposition repeat – though more celebrated recent groups have also dispensed with it. It’s not quite clear from the details whether FR has transferred from the 78 or the LP edition – but if the latter then it seems to have embedded a tricky side join - with associated rallentando at around 8:36. They take a good, flowing tempo for the slow movement, one that current groups such as the Pražák and Panocha also take and make the scherzo a thing of liveliness and vivacity at a good, spruce tempo. In fact their corporate sound is bracing, not at all saturated in romantic warmth in the way that one finds with the Prague Quartet, whose DG set of the entire quartets is still a memorable one.

The coupling is Rudolf Firkušný’s first recording of a work to which he was later to return more than once; Janáček’s Concertino. It was dedicated to Firkušný’s eminent predecessor as Czechoslovakia’s greatest pianist, Jan Heřman, though he was never to record it. It’s particularly interesting to hear this early account, especially in the context of recordings directed for him later by Kubelík and Neumann. The boxy recorded venue is dry which imparts its own aural quality to the music-making, but it never converts Firkušný’s playing to the role of purely percussive. In this work he was richer-toned and more obviously expressive than his more percussive but equally persuasive Czech contemporary Josef Páleníček, whose early 1960s LP recording, with distinguished compatriots directed by Jarmil Burghauser, is a classic recording. If you know it you’ll be aware that the flip-side had Bartók’s Sonata for two pianos and percussion with Zdeněk Mácal, no less, being one of the percussionists. The big-boned piano responses to the clarinet in the second movement in the Concert Hall reading match the veiled drama of the finale for characterisation, with its rhythmic vitality and energy. Three of the Gordon Quartet - cellist Fritz Maag was not called upon – join with some well-known and established American principals for this tautly conceived, pioneering performance.

There are no booklet notes but a few web links to pursue. Forgotten Records goes to considerable pains to restore its material and I salute its perceptive reissue policy here.

Jonathan Woolf