Musical Art Quartet
Complete Columbia Recordings
Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
String Quartet in C Major, Hob. III:57 (1788)
String Quartet in D, Hob.III:63 Lark; Vivace (Finale only) (1790)
Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
String Quartet No 10 in E-flat, D.87 (1813)
String Quartet No 11 in E, D.353 – Menuetto (Menuetto only) (1816)
String Quartet No 13 in A minor, D.804 Rosamunde (1824)
Hark, Hark, the Lark! D.889 (1826, arr. Conrad Held)
BIDDULPH 85017-2 
The Musical Art Quartet, so named because it emerged from the Institute of Musical Arts, first appeared in the 1926-27 season. It was led by Sascha Jacobsen, of Russian origin, Finnish birth, but resident in America since he was ten. A musician of rare talent and high seriousness, he was admired by no less a figure than Heifetz, with whom he played chamber music regularly and with whom, in a later incarnation of his quartet, he made a famous recording of Chausson’s Concert for violin, piano and quartet.
Jacobsen (1895-1972) came to prominence at just the time when Heifetz first appeared in New York and so his soloistic career was – as with so many others – brief, though he did make a slew of records for Columbia. Even here though – and just on US Columbia alone – he was in competition with Eddy Brown, Duci de Kerekjarto, Raoul Vidas, Toscha Seidel, Kathleen Parlow and even Enescu. The result was that he never recorded a concerto or sonata – though he did record the slow movement of the Tchaikovsky concerto. With his quartet he had better luck. With a handpicked team of Bernard Ocko (replaced by Paul Bernard for the Schubert quartets), the young Louis Kaufman, who was violist, and Marie Roemaet-Rosanoff, he set down a series of recordings in 1927-28 that have now been reissued by Biddulph.
Jacobsen deserves all the respect shown to him by his colleagues. He was the most subtle of players. He had a small tone, which he didn’t need to project given he principally played in small halls, but it was deployed with the most tasteful and refined of means – perfectly calibrated, and with an instinctive avoidance of gauche devices but always alert to expressive intensity. In the booklet Kaufman praises his unique tone; ‘suave and sweet’. Just so. I understand that he wasn’t particular about bows and played on a series of very cheap ones. Haydn’s C major quartet shows the qualities that made this ensemble so distinguished. There’s precision and clarity – inner part writing is always audible – and there are myriad gestures and felicities that keep the music vibrant and communicative. The timbral ardour of the slow movement is palpable but never strains beyond the bounds of good taste. In the finale one can admire the richness of the two lowest voices in the unusual Adagio, the finely collaborative voicings of the violinists and the deep seriousness with which all four musicians treat the music. The filler to this set was the finale of the Lark.
The Schubert recordings are both stylish and engaging. The little E-flat Quartet, D.97 is lively and communicative, and offers an object lesson from Jacobsen. in the subtlety of portamento usage. In the bigger challenges of the A minor, D.804, the deftness of the playing is matched by the precision of the fugal entries, and the characterful richness of ensemble by the pellucid elegance of the leader’s performance. For a summit point of their art try the Andante, where piquancy springs from the Viennese seedbed of the music; style, art and instrumental excellence held in a perfect balance. Conrad Held’s charming arrangement of Hark, Hark, the Lark! D.889 finishes the disc in style.
The Musical Art Quartet made other recordings at this time, usually 10” examples drawn from their encore selection. It would be good to hear them. The transfers preserve some surface noise but are forward and very attractive, and easy to listen to. Tully Potter’s booklet offers a 12-page essay in detail and clarity second to none. The final page of the booklet is even given over to the lyrics of Arthur Francis, set to music by Gershwin, famously called ‘Mischa, Jascha, Toscha and Sascha’. If you have ever wondered who the Sascha was in that quartet, here’s your chance to find out. You will discover he was a great quartet leader and had an equally great quartet.