String Quartet in C, Op.74/1
String Quartet in G, Op.77/1
String Quartet in C, K465 (Dissonance)
Quartettsatz in C minor, D703
Juilliard Quartet [Robert Mann & Robert Koff (violins), Raphael Hillyer (viola) & Claus Adam (cello); Isidore Cohen (2nd violin/Schubert)]
All recorded in New York Haydn and Mozart in 1957 in Town Hall; Schubert in 1960 in Academy of Arts & Letters
Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey
Reviewed: September 2005
CD No: TESTAMENT SBT 1372
Duration: 76 minutes
This well-filled disc contains Mozart and Haydn recordings from the Juilliard Quartet in its original manifestation and Schubert from when Isidore Cohen joined the group. Having grown up when the Juilliard was, rightly, deemed one of the supreme quartets, it is a pleasure to be able to say, rehearing these recordings, that the ensemble is fully worth of the encomium. This is magisterial playing. Whether it presents the quartet in the best light is another matter, for the Juilliard was particularly famous for recordings of twentieth-century repertoire and its Schubert was always a glorious antidote to the gemütlich Viennese tradition.
The opening Mozart is the least satisfactory item, an impeccable, one might almost say implacable performance. Whilst the shadowy opening which gives the work its soubriquet – is memorably enunciated, thereafter the performance strikes an unremittingly serious tone of voice. Yes, this is music of depth, but does Mozart’s pathos require quite this degree of gravitas in order to register? Even the finale, taken at high speed, manages to sound more like ‘late’ Beethoven.
The two Haydn quartets survive the Juilliard’s ‘molto serioso’ treatment far more satisfactorily. That is quartet playing of outstanding quality and Haydn’s inherent sturdiness responds to the Juilliard’s microscopic scrutiny with both work’s respective characters emerging unscathed. This may not be the wittiest rendering of either piece but they are certainly in the top bracket when it comes to the actual playing.
Equally satisfying is Schubert’s Quartettsatz. By this time (1959) Isidore Cohen had joined the group (in place of Robert Koff) and the combination of Mann, Cohen, Hillyer and Adam made a recording of ‘Death and the Maiden’ that for many years would be a ‘benchmark’ recording (also on Testament, SBT 1373). Abrasive and uncompromising, maybe, but such treatment of the Quartettsatz gives Schubert his full tragic stature.
The transfers are uniformly excellent even if the original sound is distinctly dry.