Wolf/Grieg/Sibelius String Quartets

Author: 
Robert Layton

Wolf/Grieg/Sibelius String Quartets

  • String Quartet No. 1
  • String Quartet in D minor, 'Voces intimae'
  • Italian Serenade

These Budapest performances set artistic standards that have rarely been matched let alone surpassed, certainly not by their later records made in the US. The Grieg, recorded in 1937 but not issued until 1943, was recently included in one of RCA's three-disc historic Grieg sets (4/94) and remains a performance of undiminished power and eloquence. I spoke of it then as having ''a tremendous grip that in no way tarnishes its lyric charm and freshness''. There it came in harness with the celebrated Kreisler/Rachmaninov account of the C minor Violin Sonata and ''Last spring'' from Two Elegiac Melodies, played by the strings of the Boston Symphony under Koussevitzky. Here it is more logically coupled with the Sibelius Voces intimae Quartet, which originally appeared with the Schneevoigt account of the Sixth Symphony in an HMV Sibelius Society album. The Voces intimae was a pioneering version and was reissued on LP (World Records 3/79—nla), but here makes its first appearance on CD.
I played the first movement of the Grieg alongside the RCA transfer, and have to report that the comparison is very much to the advantage of the Biddulph. The sound is cleaner and more transparent, the RCA is altogether murkier and less pleasing. Neither set of original copies was in perfect condition. The Sibelius, it must be said, is not superior to Anthony Griffith's World Records transfer, which is smoother and richer. However, it is still very good. The late lamented Trevor Harvey kindly gave me his ten-inch 78 of the Italian Serenade and it sounds every bit as vivid here as it does on shellac. The performance has a joie de vivre and rhythmic spring that lift the spirits.'

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