Prokofiev/Hindemith/Walton String Quartets

Author: 
Robert Layton

Prokofiev/Hindemith/Walton String Quartets

  • String Quartet No. 4
  • String Quartet No. 2
  • String Quartet
  • Introduction and Allegro for flute, clarinet, harp
  • Danse sacrée et danse profane
  • (La) Oración del torero
  • String Quartet No. 6
  • String Quartet

I bought the Hindemith/Prokofiev coupling in the early 1950s and still possess it. Although numerous LP and CD accounts of the Prokofiev have appeared in the intervening years, none has approached, let alone surpassed, the Hollywood version of the Second Quartet. The same would no doubt apply to the Hindemith but for the fact that there have been fewer challengers. The only alternatives listed are a Koch Schwann transfer (5/94) of the celebrated 1925 Amar Quartet recording with Hindemith himself playing the viola and a new recording by the Brandis Quartet (reviewed on page 64 by RC). But 1995, the centenary year of his birth, will surely produce a complete cycle of the string quartets, though whether the Third will match or surpass this present account is another matter. What a wonderful feeling for line these players had, what an incredible, perfectly matched and blended ensemble they produced—and how well these transfers sound! That goes for the Walton, too.
In its original LP form the Walton was coupled with the Sixth Quartet of Villa-Lobos (now on the second disc). The latter was written in 1940 and is slight but attractive. Reviewing it in 1951 LS found it most enjoyable and was particularly taken by ''the 7/8 cello cantabile against pizzicato figures which starts the second movement''. The authors (Edward Sackville-West and Desmond Shawe-Taylor) of The Record Guide (Collins: 1955) thought ''the composer's cleverness and technical facility enable him to make his small fund of inspiration go a long way'', yet added, a ''performance of the utmost brilliance and clarity''. The recent recording by the Danubius Quartet (Marco Polo, 1/94) does not begin to compare, and I know of no other account of the Walton that makes so positive a case for it.
Paul Creston's String Quartet was originally coupled with the Turina La oracion del torero and Wolf's Italian Serenade. LS, in 1954, thought that ''with their [the Hollywood's] flexibility but overall shaping, they make Turina's rhapsodic genre piece sound a better work than it really is: it would be difficult to better this performance''. And I can't imagine the finely crafted Creston work of 1938 being more sympathetically served. He is better known for his orchestral music these days, but in the early 1950s the String Quartet and the Two Choric Dances were his sole representation. The Quartet is slightly Gallic in feeling, and sweeter and more euphonious than those of Piston or Schuman. The sound, as elsewhere in these recordings, is slightly on the dry side, save in the Ravel Introduction and Allegro, which also offers the additional attraction of Arthur Gleghorn's flute playing (though given the excellence of Mitchell Lurie and Ann Mason Stockton, it seems invidious to single him out). All the same, beautiful though this performance is, it has—for once—been equalled in terms of atmosphere by later recordings.
The Debussy Danse sacree et danse profane sounds every bit as magical as I recall from my original ten-inch LP. None of these performances was included in HMV's three-LP set ''The Legendary Hollywood Quartet'' (12/82—nla). Let us hope that in time Testament will reissue the Borodin and Tchaikovsky D major Quartets and the Shostakovich Piano Quintet. In the meantime these two discs are recommended with all possible enthusiasm.'

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