Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
String Quartet in G major, Op.76 No.1, Hob. III.76 (c.1799) [19:24]
Carl Ditters von DITTERSDORF (1739-1799)
String Quartet No.1 in D major: Allegro (finale) [3:52]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
String Quartet No.17 in B flat major, K458 Hunt (1784) [23:48]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
String Quartet No.12 in F major, Op.96, B179 American (1893) [23:46]
Alexander BORODIN (1833-1887)
String Quartet No.2 in D major: Nocturne (1885) [8:37]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
String Quartet No.14 in D minor, D810 Death and the Maiden (1824) [35:02]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
String Quartet in E flat major: Canzonetta, Op[.12 (1829) [4:20]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
String Quartet No.2 in F major, Op.22 (1874) [37:03]
Budapest String Quartet
rec. London 1926-29
PRISTINE AUDIO PACM098 [79:29 + 76:25]

In this twofer restoration engineer Mark Obert-Thorn partially revisits a disc he produced for Novello many years ago (NVLCD903). In that release the Budapest Quartet recordings included were the Schubert, Dvořák, Mendelssohn Canzonetta, Borodin Nocturne and the one work not contained here, but which may well appear in a later volume if such is forthcoming, the Andante cantabile from Tchaikovsky’s Quartet No.1. He has dealt with the abrasions, ticks and pops of that Novello restoration so that the new work represents a significant improvement.

This incarnation of the quartet was genuinely Hungarian – not all-Russian as it was later to become - with the exception of Dutch cellist Harry Son, who had studied with the great cellist and pedagogue David Popper. Though they went into HMV’s London studios to record acoustically those discs were never issued. It was the early electric sequence - beginning with the 1926 sides here - that mark their first appearance as a formidable recording unit. It’s largely because of the huge prestige earned by the later line-up in America that these earlier recordings have been overlooked, but it still amazes me to read that the Haydn, Dittersdorf, Mozart and the Tchaikovsky heard in this two-disc release are making their first-ever CD appearance.

The Haydn is played with lightness, and deft articulation, though there’s a greater tonal weight and variety in the slow movement, which is prayerful and beautifully voiced. The Dittersdorf was recorded on the same day and is a delightful souvenir of their wit. Mozart’s Hunt quartet is elegantly done, though the Minuet is very stately indeed, where first violinist Emil Hauser’s portamenti are expressively purposeful. That said there’s insufficient contrast between this Minuet and the ensuing Adagio. The Dvořák receives a rather memorable reading, those slides again just one part of the ensemble’s expressive arsenal. It’s one of the very best shellac recordings of the American and all the more valuable as it preserve the playing of second fiddle Imre Pogany.

The remainder of the programme sees Pogany’s replacement by the first of the Russians, Joseph Roisman for the 1928-29 recordings. They include an outstandingly lyrical and songfully refulgent Borodin Nocturne, and Schubert’s Death and the Maiden with more evidence of Hauer’s stylish slides and elfin phrasing. There is some delicious playing in the slow movement. A major work here is Tchaikovsky’s Quartet No.2, hardly a favourite on disc even then, which perhaps predictably didn’t sell very well at the time and was culled in the post-Wall Street Crash retrenchment of the recording industry. Most interestingly the group never re-recorded it so this is the only example, made in February 1929, of the Budapest Quartet playing this F major work. The spirited control of rhythm and colour, abetted by Son’s masterfully calibrated lyric phrasing in the slow movement, mark this out as a significant document in the quartet’s discography.

This is a must-have for admirers of the Budapest Quartet. The restorations of those works previously unavailable on CD is reason enough to thank Pristine for their perceptive and comprehensive look at the group’s early history on record.

Jonathan Woolf