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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers


Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
String Quartet No.2 in F Op.92 (1941) [22:37]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Three Pieces for string quartet (1914) [7:29]
Concertino for string quartet (1920) [7:45]
Jerome KERN (1885-1945)
Melodies arranged by Charles Miller
All the Things You Are (Very Warm for May) [4:40]
The Way You Look Tonight (Swing Time) [4:40]
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes (Roberta) [4:35]
Once in a Blue Moon (The Stepping Stones) [3:49]
The Song is You (Music in the Air) [4:32]
Bill (Show Boat) [3:57]
Gordon String Quartet
rec. 1942 (Kern), 1946 (Prokofiev) and 1953 (Stravinsky) New York

Forgotten Records is casting its restorative arts ever wider. It’s sub-specialising in American string quartets and has very properly restored discs made by the Curtis. Here it’s the turn of a more obscure ensemble, the Gordon String Quartet. It was named after its primarius, Jacques Gordon (1899-1948), who was born in Odessa and later became a much respected concertmaster of the Chicago Symphony as well as a formidably equipped chamber musician. Collectors will associate Gordon with two composers in particular – Copland, with whom he recorded (Gordon made very few solo violin discs), and Loeffler. A devastating stroke in 1947 ended Gordon’s career, and he died a scant two years later.

I’ve always enjoyed the playing of this group, as Gordon was an excellent first violin and he sought interesting repertoire. It’s a shame he recorded for less well-distributed labels such as Schirmer. But for every collector who writes off Schirmer’s pressings and recording quality, there’s another who thanks it for its enterprise in recording, say, Loeffler at all. The main items on this disc are all from Concert Hall. The Prokofiev Quartet No.2 was recorded on 78s in 1946, and I don’t know of any earlier set. If you know the 1951 Hollywood String Quartet traversal – it’s on Testament – you’ll know the different approaches the two American groups took to the first movement. The Hollywood is fleet and warmer, the Gordon more clay-footed in their Caucasus dances, and wirier in tone. Gordon is at his considerable best in the slow movement where his beautifully focused tone is put to fine use. The quartet’s rhythm is excellent too, and cellist Fritz Magg also shines. The finale is meat-and-drink to the Odessa-born fiddler and he leads his confreres – Urico Rossi, violist David Dawson, and Magg – in the little cell-like dance motifs with great flair. The recording is excellent and FR has presumably transferred from the LP release, not directly from the 78s.

The two Stravinsky works followed in 1953. The Krettly had recorded the Three Pieces first but the Gordon offers perceptive musicianship, acute awareness of dynamics, and a real sense of presence. Their first-ever recording of the Concertino for string quartet is equally fine. They sound thoroughly at home with the lexicon, moving intently from abrasion to its more overtly romanticised gestures.

As a finale there is something of an anomaly but a thoroughly welcome one. This is the 1942 Decca set of Jerome Kern melodies arranged for quartet by Charles Miller. By pure chance I’m reviewing a contemporary recording that uses the same arrangements and interestingly they’re significantly quicker than these Gordon Quartet performances – not something one tends to find. Decca had a bit of a thing recording leading groups and soloists in light material. On its roster the London String Quartet recorded Stephen Forster songs, and Heifetz recorded a light album too. One also finds an earlier incarnation of the group for these Kern songs, where Samuel Weiss is second violin and William Lincer the violist.

As usual there are no notes but some internet links to pursue. This is an excellent disc, and thoroughly recommendable to quartet collectors. Some of the Gordon Quartet recordings have been uploaded to YouTube but it would still be good to hear their Schirmers well transferred to silver disc.

Jonathan Woolf



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