Ernst von DOHNÁNYI (1877-1960)
String Quartet No.2 in D flat, Op.15 (1906) [25:24]
Piano Quintet No.2 in E minor, Op.26 (1914) [22:53]
Curtis Quartet: Vladimir Sokoloff (piano)
rec. c.1954

It’s good to come across fine restorations of the Curtis Quartet’s Westminster LPs. The group was led by Jascha Brodsky, with Louis Berman the second violin, violist Max Aronoff, and cellist Orlando Cole. This release focuses squarely on the music of Dohnányi, with Vladimir Sokoloff enlisted for the Piano Quintet, Op.26.

Reviewers in the old days used to speak of 78rpm sets ‘replacing’ earlier ones. In the same spirit it would have been in Westminster’s mind that Dohnányi’s Second Quartet hadn’t previously been on LP, and that the Roth Quartet’s American Columbia 78 set was beginning to show its age – to say nothing of the pioneering set made in 1929 by the great Flonzaley Quartet (which has been transferred to CD). You don’t find the richly poignant, organ-like tone of the Flonzaleys in the Curtis’s clean-limbed but nevertheless expressive playing – but nor do you find the lavish, sometimes even hair-raising upward portamentos that were so much a part of that early ensemble’s arsenal. So, without being as overtly warm, the Curtis move from the Andante opening section of the first movement to the Allegro with precision and perception, and they locate a considerable quotient of the quartet’s singing lyricism, rooted in a profound understanding of late-Romanticism. This is dextrous playing, with a well-sustained Adagio section and a correspondingly urgent approach in the Animato finale - so urgent, in fact, that Jascha Brodksy splits a note or two in his committed playing.

The coupling is equally finely played. I’m not aware that any previous recordings had been made of this Quintet, which means that this was probably its premiere outing on disc. The players, most certainly including Sokoloff, are alive to the resonant sweep of the music but they clearly relish, too, those moments of capricious wit in the Intermezzo where Sokoloff’s piano drolly comments on the strings’ serious-minded approach. The finale, marked Moderato, has truly rapt expression, and the piano takes the lead often in romantic statements. The Curtis sounds completely inside the idiom.

Given the disc’s provenance, most readers would doubtless prefer far more up-to-date sound. No matter how well transferred, a c.1954 Remington will always sound like a 1954 Remington. For historically-minded collectors, at whom this disc is aimed, this is an enticing prospect.

Jonathan Woolf