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Darius MILHAUD (1892-1974)
String Quartet No. 1, Op.5 (1912) [29:40]
Clarinet Sonatine, Op.100 (1927) [8:58]
Joaquín TURINA (1882-1949)
La Oración del Torero (1925) [7:45]
Leonard BERNSTEIN (1918-1990)
Sonata for Clarinet and Piano (1941-2) [9:31]
WXQR Quartet
Herbert Tichman (clarinet)
Ruth Budnevich (piano)
rec. c. 1951-55

I was initially intrigued by the name WQXR, and then discovered it was an American radio station based in Newark, New Jersey. They boasted an in-house quartet from around 1940, who took the name. The formation we have here was brought together by Hugo Fiorato in the Spring of 1947, featuring Fiorato and Harry Glickman on violin, Jack Braunstein on viola, and Harvey Shapiro on cello. For the next sixteen years they graced the station with their outstanding performances. Harold C. Schoenberg, the New York Times music critic, enthusiastically wrote, “The ensemble of the WQXR Quartet is something to admire, as is the perfection of their intonation”. Financial concerns resulted in the group disbanding in 1963. Strange as it may seem, they only made two commercial albums for a company called Polymusic Records, the Milhaud and Turina we have here, inscribed in 1955, and a later recording of César Franck’s String Quartet. Forgotten Records’ remasterings are from a Nixa LP (QLP 4004).

Milhaud was twenty when he wrote the first of his eighteen string quartets and dedicated it to Paul Cézanne. Here we have a young composer determined to find his own voice. Already he was confident and assured and penned his four-movement work, inspired very much by the music of Debussy, Ravel and Fauré. Copious melody and an impressive command of polytonality are compelling features. The composer later revised the work, excising the third movement, but I'm pleased to say that all four movements are included here. Two outer animated movements frame two slow ones. The WQXR Quartet play with warmth and commitment.

The other work they perform is the brief eight minute Toreador’s Prayer, composed by Joaquín Turina in 1925. It started life as a lute quartet but was later arranged for both string quartet and string orchestra. As in the Milhaud, Debussy and Ravel are striking influences, as is traditional Andalusian music. Despite its brevity, it surfs a range of emotions from bravado and passion to dreamy reflection. The WQXR contour the ebb and flow to perfection.
A Concert Hall LP (H-18) is the source for the two clarinet sonatas. Herbert Tichman (1922-2010) was a chamber musician and teacher from Philadelphia. In 1948 he married Ruth Budnevich, the pianist who partners him here. They played and recorded often as a duo. The Milhaud Sonatina, Op. 100 was written during the summer of 1927 and dedicated to clarinettist Louis Cahuzac, who premiered it in 1929. The outer movements, unusually, are marked Très rude and, in both cases, the performers hit the ground running. Both movements are polytonal and dissonant and quite feral in nature. Centrally placed is a contrasting slow movement which, although melodious, is rather plaintive. Tichman’s plangent tone captures the mood well.

Leonard Bernstein’s Sonata for Clarinet and Piano dates from 1941-42 when he was still a student at the Curtis Institute, and holds the distinction of being his first published piece. In two movements the first takes its lead from his sometimes teacher Paul Hindemith. Starting off slow, Bernstein soon turns the gas up to something more energetic. The finale starts with a slow introduction, then Bernstein comes into his own, employing buoyant rhythms and jazzy syncopations.

The recordings sound well, considering they date from the early to mid 50s. The Bernstein is an absolute gem.

Stephen Greenbank
Previous review: Jonathan Woolf

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