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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
String Quartets (The Haydn Society Recordings)
The Schneider Quartet
rec. 1951-1954
Full track-listing below
MUSIC AND ARTS CD-1281 [15 CDs: 17:00:00]

The Schneider Quartet recorded 48 of Haydn’s quartets in what was to prove an incomplete cycle made between 1951 and 1954. There had been pre-war dreams of a complete cycle and HMV had enlisted the Pro Arte Quartet, who managed to set down 29 quartets before War intervened. They have since been reissued in two bulky boxes by Testament. It was the Haydn Society who understood the need to record the works on LP. The quartet was Alexander Schneider, Isidore Cohen, violist Karen Tuttle and cellist Madeline Foley. The recordings were made after the Casals Festival but the venue later moved to New York. When Foley left in 1953 her place was taken by Daniel Saidenberg though as his stay was so brief he didn’t contribute to these recordings. His replacement, the eminent Herman Busch, certainly did contribute and saw out the remaining works to be recorded until, unfortunately, the project ground to a halt because of lack of money. This meant that Opp. 9, 54, 55, 64, 71 and 74 remained unrecorded so far as this cycle was concerned.

Questions of tonal homogeneity and rhythmic impetus recur time and again in these buoyant and expressive readings. In the long but textually aerated slow movement of Op.1 No ‘0’ they evince grace and are appropriately refined in the similar central Adagio of La Chasse (Op.1 No.1), remaining happily sensitively balanced in the opening Allegro of Op.1 No.2. As the quartets were not all recorded chronologically it’s intriguing to hear Busch replace Foley in Op.2 No.1; he points the pomposo elements of the Menuetto very drolly but brings stateliness to bear too when required. For Op.2 Nos. 3 and 5 horn players Weldon and Kathleen Wilber are to be heard communicatively aiding the ensemble. There’s a rich legato in the slow movements of Op.2 No.3 in particular. Foley is the cellist for all the Op.17 quartets and her elegance is admirable. It’s noticeable though that Busch tends to be the more assertive cellist and he balances up, whereas Foley tended to balance down a little. One of the high points of the Op.20 recording is the flowing piety sustained in the Affettuso e sostenuto third movement of the first of the set. Even when the tempo may seem ostensibly slow, such as the slow movement of Op.20 No.4, things don’t drag though the performance isn’t flattered by the rather dry studio acoustic.

These are not the sweetest toned of performances but that was not the aesthetic intention. They balance a warm and expressive quality, such as can be found in the Largo sostenuto of Op.33 No.2 with an appreciation of Haydn’s earthier side, not least in the droll pay off at the end of this quartet. There is plenty of rhythmic vitality to be savoured throughout, not least in the Rondo finale of Op.33 No.3, the famous Bird quartet. One other matter is that of tempo. For the most part they sustain whatever tempo they take. Slower ones are buoyed by rhythmic energy and there’s never a sense of lassitude. Sometimes the prevailing tempo orthodoxy at Casals’ Prades at this time tended to the slower end of the spectrum but the group sounds both lyrical yet directional, qualities that apply across the board to the Op.50 set. The Seven Last Words has immense concentration but this twelfth disc spins a surprise. There are two surviving moments of Op.64 No.1 in C major, compiled from an unedited master tape from a session in October 1954 and making its first commercial release. It makes the absence of Op. 64 from the group’s discography all the more poignant.

All the Op.76 set is with Herman Busch whose vibrato speed and timbral depth provide a sure foundation. The Schneider Quartet is elegantly rustic in the opening of the Emperor with fine bass drones. The famous slow movement conforms to the sweet lyricism of their approach to such movements throughout the cycle. They do not press too hard and sustain the slowish tempo well. Fine though these later opus sets are, one wonders how they’d have approached Op.74. Chances are it would have been with equal success.

A few specifics: these 15 CDs are priced ‘as for eight’. There’s a booklet with full track details and a very good note from Tully Potter. The original LP liner notes, written by Marion M Scott - of Ivor Gurney fame and much else - and Karl Geiringer are available for free download via Music & Arts’ website. Transfers are in the hands of Lani Spahr who has done his customarily excellent job employing the master tapes of the Haydn Society, as well as LP sources.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Stephen Greenbank

Track-listing

CD 1 [71:50]: Op. 1 No. “0” in E flat major; Op. 1 No. 1 in Bb major “La Chasse”; Op. 1 No. 2 in E flat major; Op. 1 No. 3 in D major.
CD 2 [63:09]: Op. 1 No. 4 in G major; Op. 1 No. 6 in C major; Op. 2 No. 1 in A major*.
CD 3 [63:06]: Op. 2 No. 2 in E major*; Op. 2 No. 3 in E flat major* (Weldon Wilber, Kathleen Wilber (horns)); Op. 2 No. 4 in F major*.
CD 4 [79:08]: Op. 2 No. 5 in D major* (Weldon Wilber, Kathleen Wilber (horns)); Op. 2 No. 6 in Bb major*; Op. 17 No. 1 in E major; Op. 17 No. 2 in F major.
CD 5 [65:20]: Op. 17 No. 3 in E flat major; Op. 17 No. 4 in C minor; Op. 17 No. 5 in G major.
CD 6 [62:13]: Op. 17 No. 6 in D major; Op. 20 No. 1 in E flat major*; Op. 20 No. 2 in C major*.
CD 7 [70:32]: Op. 20 No. 3 in G minor*; Op. 20 No. 4 in D major*; Op. 20 No. 5 in F minor*.
CD 8 [79:59]: Op. 20 No. 6 in A major*; Op. 33 No. 1 in B minor; Op. 33 No. 2 in E flat major “The Joke”; Op. 33 No. 3 in C major “The Bird”.
CD 9 [78:47]: Op. 33 No. 4 in B flat major; Op. 33 No. 5 in G major; Op. 33 No. 6 in D major; Op. 42 in D minor.
CD 10 [69:30]: Op. 50 No. 1 in B flat major; Op. 50 No. 2 in C major; Op. 50 No. 3 in E flat major.
CD 11 [65:10]: Op. 50 No. 4 in F sharp minor; Op. 50 No. 5 in F major “The Dream”; Op. 50 No. 6 in D major “The Frog”.
CD 12 [65:58]: Op. 51 “The Seven Last Words of The Savior on the Cross”; Op. 64 No. 1 in C major* (movements I and IV only). First commercial release. Compiled from an unedited master tape from sessions on Oct. 5, 1954 in New York.
CD 13 [68:59]: Op. 76 No. 1 in G major*; Op. 76 No. 2 in D minor “Quinten”*; Op. 76 No. 3 in C major “Emperor”*.
CD 14 [69:31]: Op. 76 No. 4 in B flat major “Sunrise”*; Op. 76 No. 5 in D major*; Op. 76 No. 6 in E flat major*.
CD 15 [63:04]: Op. 77 No. 1 in G major; Op. 77 No. 2 in F major; Op. 103 in B flat major/D minor (movements II and III only)
* Herman Busch replaces Madeline Foley