Haydn: String Quartets
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Haydn: String Quartets
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Only rarely does it happen in the recording industry that repertoire and performers align, so that the resulting performances take on an added glow of authenticity. Thus it was with Haydn and the Schneider Quartetand over the years these 53 readings have acquired legendary status. For anyone who does not object to early 1950s monophonic sound, a true treat awaits, for despite some serious competition, these recordings have never been effaced. The quartet itself took its name from its leader Alexander Schneider (1908-93), one of the more remarkable musicians of the last century, and like that of second violinist Isidore Cohen (1922-2005), anyone with an interest in, or knowledge of, chamber group ensembles will know in an instant. The performances captured here speak for themselves. This is grand playing from a bygone era, yet truly essential listening.
"But what M&A has given us is so unarguably essential and, as already stated, so downright indispensable, as to render the concept of "best" rather meaningless. Indeed, performances on this level of commitment, authority and assurance have always made comparison simply beside the point." --Richard Freed, Soundstage
"The Schneider Quartet (violinists Alexander Schneider and Isidor Cohen, violist Karen Tuttle, cellists Madeleine Foley and later Herman Busch) recorded 53 quartets to launch the Haydn Society label over a three-year period starting in 1951. Their recordings had a remarkable impact at the time - the sophisticated playing, imbued with sentiment and attitude, helped trigger a surge of Haydn quartet recordings that continues to this day. Their recording of Opus 77, No. 1, turned me on to chamber music." --Laurence Vittes, AllThingsStrings.com
Top Customer Reviews
Around 1952, they started recording the pieces for the Haydn Society record label, but ultimately money for the project ran out before each one of the quartets could be recorded. So this is not a truly "complete" set, if you care about that. Which, in this case, you shouldn't.
In the view of aficionados -- of which I am unabashedly one -- this pioneering effort remains the cycle that best captures the full humor and emotional range of Haydn. These are performances that will at times make you laugh, and other times bring you to tears.
I was lucky enough to be brought up with many of these performances thanks to LPs (ever so loved and consequently well-worn) purchased by my parents, and I can't help but find most others to be a pale shadow. The musical wit and virtuosity of these recordings has made them a legend among record collectors and musicians alike.
The box set has a nice reproduction of one of the original LP covers, plus definitive notes putting the recordings in historical context by Tully Potter, the noted authority on historical chamber music recordings (further, the original notes that were supplied with the LPs themselves regarding the music itself are downloadable from the Music and Arts website, if you wish them). For many years, the master tapes were feared lost, but they were eventually obtained by Music and Arts, and about 80 percent of this box set comes from the master tapes, and the additional 20 percent from carefully transferred LP copies.
These are mono recordings from the early 1950s, so you would not buy them if recorded sound is your main criterion. But, because of the talent and sensitivity of the musicians, the balance between the four players is impeccable, which is what really counts here. As an aside, though Schneider could be considered the "star" player here, he never overwhelms the others -- such a contrast to the chamber music recordings made by Jascha Heifetz (train wrecks, albeit glorious ones).
If you primarily listen through headphones and the idea of monaural recordings bothers you, you can sample this set via a well-known streaming audio website (a competitor to Amazon, so I won't name it here).
The performances are Haydn, pure and simple. Those who have gotten used to the spectral moan and mewling whine of so many original instrument performances of Haydn may be surprised by the humor, pathos, and zest of the works as performed here. The Schneider group successfully conveys the whole range of expression that so many fail to see in Haydn's music. From the aristocratically elegant to the almost bawdy, by way of some of the most heartfelt and exquisite slow movements ever set down, Haydn fully embraced the human experience as he lived it and expressed it musically as no one else. Prudes and historical purists might object, but these performances get to the very essence of the master's music. A must have for any lover of this often under-valued musical genius.
But there's more. The accompanying booklet and essay by Tully Potter are indispensable, as are the excellent liner notes you can access at www.musicandarts.com.
All in all, this is one of the best quartet recordings in the catalogue, so don't hesitate to dive in!