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Jonathan Woolf
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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
L’Estro Armonico, Op. 3 No. 8, RV522 (1711) [12:02]
Luigi BOCCHERINI (1743-1805)
String Quartet Op.32 No.6 in A, G206 (1780) [16:04]
Niccolò PAGANINI (1782-1840)
String Quartet No.7, MS34bis, string quartet version of quartet for guitar and strings [23:38]
Eddy Brown and Roman Totenberg (violins)
unnamed string orchestra (Vivaldi)
York String Quartet (Boccherini and Paganini)
rec. c.1939 (Vivaldi) and 1949 (remainder)

There’s a mystery at the heart of this disc. Forgotten Records has been perfectly right to replicate details from the Regent LPs from which these performances derive as they credit the York String Quartet. There’s a minor sub-mystery about this ensemble as well, since the labels of the LPs, but not the covers, call the group the New York String Quartet. Given that this is a common name and there were several incarnations of New York groups, it’s best to describe them as the York. But the real mystery is the first piece, the Vivaldi Concerto from L’Estro Armonico, which is clearly not a quartet performance.

The two violin soloists are extremely fine players and underserving of anonymity so, to cut this mystery short and knowing that Regent sometimes had recourse to transfer Royale 78rpm sets, I am sure that this is actually Eddy Brown and Roman Totenberg and an anonymous string ensemble in their four-sided Royale recording of around 1939. It seems to be very difficult accurately to date Royales so I’m going for that date or thereabouts. By some fluke this is one of the Brown Royales I have, so I ran it alongside the CD and, apart from a small pitch discrepancy, they match up. So, by default and not design, this joins APR’s Eddy Brown transfers, some of them Royales, in broadening appreciation of this Leopold Auer-trained American violinist, as well as Totenberg, who lived far longer and is better known. Expressive and elegant, with quick, glancing slides in the slow movement the performance is buoyant and attractive even if the recording itself is just a touch bass-orientated.

The Paganini recording is certainly ex-Royale 586-88, recorded around 1949 and released the following year. This is the familiar arrangement for string quartet of the original work for guitar and ensemble. It was the work’s first-ever recording. The York was led by Max Pollikoff (1904-84), well-known in New York circles for his ‘Music in our Time’ series, and a good chamber player. His serene solo passages are laudable, the pizzicati and sensitively shaped tempi equally so. Paragraphs are well integrated into the music’s witty rhetoric.

The Boccherini was released on LP with the Vivaldi under the name of the York Quartet, which has confused things, as noted above. It’s crisply played, well balanced, stylish and genial if very slightly small-scaled. The quartet’s sound is quite tight and crisp, not at all expressively voluptuous, notwithstanding the repertoire.

There are no notes but some internet sites to pursue are included and I liked the jacket artwork, which is very appropriate.

Jonathan Woolf

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