Sibelius; Verdi String Quartets
Listening to the 1933 Budapest recording of the Sibelius, I was struck by the group’s lightness and swiftness in relation to the way quartets generally play it today. The Budapest Vivace second movement and finale have a natural vitality that can make the Gabrieli, or this Melos recording, sound slightly laboured; on the other hand there’s no doubt that both these modern groups find greater depth and intensity of expression in the great central Adagio di molto, or that the Melos, in particular, produces a splendidly rich, dark sonority in the following
The Verdi is bold and vigorous; the Melos’s fine rhythmic control, already a feature in the Sibelius, is even more impressive here. Compared with the Juilliard or the Hagen, its is a more straightforward interpretation – the Juilliard full of imaginative responses to the colourful harmonic changes and always edging towards a smoother, more sustained sound; the Hagen goes for maximum contrast, with wonderfully graceful quiet playing, but some rather aggressive, overemphatic fortes. The Melos, by contrast, doesn’t give quite enough emphasis to the lyrical aspects of the quartet – at the moment the finale turns to the major (track 9, after 3'10'') the group doesn’t sustain the longer notes as beautifully as the Hagen does, and the passage loses its delicate emotional appeal. Generally, however, it balances the music’s different facets with great skill and feeling. It’s very physical, direct playing, yet there’s no loss of tonal quality. Recommended.'