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Zoltán KODÁLY (1882-1967)
String Quartet No. 2, Op. 10 (1916-18) [18:25]
Karol SZYMANOWSKI (1882-1937)
String Quartet No. 1, Op. 37 (1917) [18:14]
Ernest BLOCH (1880-1959)
Piano Quintet No.1 (1921-3) [33:01]
Walden String Quartet
Johana Harris (piano)
rec. 1951, 1955 (Bloch)

The three composers featured on this release were all near-contemporaries and reflect the ethos of the Walden String Quartet in choosing repertoire that emphasized modern composers. They premiered many 20th Century works, including Elliot Carter's First String Quartet, which the composer dedicated to them. Indeed their first concert in 1936 included works by Hindemith, Quincy Porter and Normand Lockwood. The ensemble was formed in 1934, the brainchild of violinist Homer Schmitt and cellist Robert Swenson, members of the Cleveland Orchestra. Violinist Bernard Goodman and violist Leroy Collins were enlisted for the original line up. The viola chair changed several times, but Eugene Weigel does the honours here. The Waldens had several affiliations with educational institutions, including Cleveland College, Cornell University and latterly at the University of Illinois, where they were resident at the time these recordings were made in the early to mid 1950s. They finally disbanded in the late 1970s.

Kodály’s String Quartet No. 2, cast in three movements, was completed in 1918 and, to my mind, is preferable to the First Quartet. I certainly find it more melodious and richer rhythmically and harmonically. Also, there's a notable Debussy influence blended with lashings of Magyar folk music. The first two movements sound quite introspective at times, with the central recitativo discursive in character. The finale lifts some of the weight off the music and provides a rhythmically propulsive and animated contrast.

The Op. 37 is the first of two string quartets Szymanowski composed. It dates from 1917 and, in common with the Kodály, is in three movements. It's dedicated to the French musicologist Henry Pruničre, and was premiered in Warsaw in March 1924. It holds the distinction of winning the first prize in the Polish Ministry of Religious Denominations and Public Enlightenment's chamber music competition. It has a languorous opening before the music becomes more involved and pungent. A delightful, song-like Andantino semplice with wistful leanings sits centre-stage. A witty energetic finale follows, neo-classically etched.

It's apt that the Waldens perform Ernest Bloch's Piano Quintet No. 1 of 1923, as both the music and the musicians are bound by the Cleveland connection in their origins. Compared to the other two works on this CD, the Quintet is of epic proportions at 33 minutes duration. My first impressions were that it sounded like a marriage between the astringency of Bartók with the seductive strains of Fauré. I'm particularly drawn to the lyrically persuasive Andante mistico middle movement. Its exoticism and sensuality are alluring. It's framed by two vigorous movements, skilfully scored and eloquently rendered by the Walden Quartet, ably partnered by Johana Harris on piano.

The Waldens deliver edge of seat performances. Their tone is warm and vibrant and their interpretations reveal that they are fully at home in this repertoire. The mono LP source copies sound fresh and resonant in Forgotten Records remasterings. No notes are provided.

Stephen Greenbank



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