Schubert: String Quartet No. Import
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|1. Str Qt In a D804 Op.29: Allegro Ma Non Troppo|
|2. Str Qt In a D804 Op.29: Andante|
|3. Str Qt In a D804 Op.29: Minuetto. Allegretto/Trio/Minuetto Da Capo|
|4. Str Qt In a D804 Op.29: Allegro Moderato|
|5. Qt In g/B D18: Andante/Presto Vivace|
|6. Qt In g/B D18: Menuetto/Trio/Meneutto Da Capo|
|7. Qt In g/B D18: Andante|
|8. Qt In g/B D18: Presto|
|9. Ov In B flat (Fragment) D470: Allegro|
Two legendary Busch Quartet 1930s HMV recordings of Beethoven’s string quartets are featured on this disc. Led by Adolf Busch and acclaimed as perhaps the finest interpreters of the composer’s work in that idiom, their recordings of the Quartet in C major no.3 ‘Rasumovsky’ and the Quartet in C sharp minor no.14 leave the listener in no doubt as to why they enjoy such exalted status among chamber music groups of their era. "Their understated yet subtle and lively interpretations avoid the faux-sublime and so wear extremely well. [...] Adolph Busch's warm lyricism is unfailing." - American Record Guide
This disc, Volume 2 of the series, is best heard backwards. The half-minute fragment doesn't tell us much about anything, being too brief. But the very early Quartet, D. 18, is a touchingly sincere work of the very young Schubert (apparently about age 13). Its ending is extremely awkward, but other parts of the score are surprisingly affecting for such early work. This piece should definitely not be heard after the great masterpiece in A Minor, which makes it seem very trivial by contrast. The Leipzig Quartet's playing of these pieces is very Schubertian--melodically oriented and with plenty of overt drama. --Leslie Gerber
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Besides the wrongheaded aesthetic lying behind the Manhattan Quartet's interpretation, what sonically goes wrong here? Several things. The two quartets in question offer quite a few opportunities for coloristic effects but these are generally eschewed by the Manhattan. Take the finale of the 4th quartet, with a bouncing accompaniment that gives the performers the ability to create a very attractive sound texture. This opportunity is only seized briefly before the Manhattan Quartet returns to a homogenized sound. The same comment applies to the shrouded sound of the 4th quartet's opening allegro, which almost seems happy. This deep dark texture is overlooked by the Manhattan Quartet. One of the most magical moments in these two very strong quartets comes at the end of the Andante, which is unfortunately not realized fully.
A related flaw is that the first violin isn't prominent enough, which for example interferes with presenting the structural cohesion of the Andantino of the 4th quartet. I know the Andantino pretty well but found it hard to follow and grasp in this recording, although I did find that the ending, with its inflected sixth, was done beautifully. In general, the Manhattan Quartet maintain an equality between the four instruments that helps homogenizes the texture. Those are my observations based on listening but it's hard not to draw an inference and relate the bland overall approach to the absence of any strong musical personality within the group. That's my guess. Beyond the technical flaws, I see an absence of passion and sterile, vitiated note-spinning as the problem underpinning this release.
Finally, the sound engineering found here isn't awful but emphasizes the treble in a way that does the ensemble's sound no favors. In short, the performance is texturally homogenous, underemphasizes the lead melodies and sounds bright due to the engineering.
I compared this recording with a very fine recording from the 1960s by the Taneyev Quartet of St. Petersburg and the good but not outstanding 4th & 5th from the complete set of Shostakovich quartets from the Brodsky Quartet of the UK and found those simply better than the Manhattan's effort, on par technically and in the case of the Taneyev full of inspiration and emotion. This is a shame because the Manhattan players are accomplished technically and I did find this disc enjoyable in a detached way. But there's more here to be had from these two terrific compositions.
I'd say, if you want 4 and 5 together, there's really nothing wrong hear. Yes, they are "decent" performances- the sound is as has been criticized but still is altogether pleasant and digital.
At first I was going to argue the criticism, but, in 5, for instance, the Emerson do get quite a nut turning; the Manhattan are more, well, from New York City,- I know that sounds bad (and the Emerson aren't Russian or anything), but, they do have a modern, city-like interpretation, I think.
Well, the Manhattan are going for pennies, that's one thing in their favour. I have always liked their 2-10- their tight sound is a bit tight for the later works. Pick up this disc, and 6-8, and 9-10. I don't care what anyone says, give them a shot!