String Quartet in A, K464
String Quartet in E flat, Op.127
Amadeus Quartet [Norbert Brainin & Siegmund Nissel (violins), Peter Schidlof (viola) & Martin Lovett (cello)]
Recorded in the Funkhaus, Saal 1, WDR Cologne – on 3 February 1956 (Mozart) & 2 February 1956
Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson
Reviewed: August 2007
CD No: MEDICI ARTS MM007-2
Duration: 68 minutes
The booklet note gives a clear account of the remarkable 40-year existence of the Amadeus Quartet and describes the nature of its sound and style accurately. Particularly germane is writer Tully Potter’s assertion that “No-one would mistake the Amadeus Quartet for any rival ensemble.”
I entirely agree with this sentiment, yet it would be wrong to assume that these musicians played music in the same way throughout a career spanning the years 1947 to 1987. I recall some of the Quartet’s 1960s’ EMI recordings when a generous use of vibrato was evident from all the players. Leader Norbert Brainin in particular would expound melodies while narrowing his vibrato to create tension. At this period, too, the Quartet seemed reluctant to observe more than a minimum of marked repeats. This was a particular feature of the generally fine set of Beethoven’s Opus 18 Quartets. No-one would dare be so parsimonious with those da capo observations nowadays.
Later DG recordings found the ensemble using less vibrato but employing it in a more unified way. Greater recognition of marked repeats became usual and the interpretations were by this time a little more earthy and direct but without ever losing the essential elegance that had been the hallmark of these players from the outset.
These 1956 radio broadcasts finds unassuming use of vibrato (it is even quite restrained in the intense slow movement of the Beethoven) and the first-movement exposition repeat in the Mozart is observed, although I seem to recall a later performance when it wasn’t.
In general this clear, forward mono recording, set in a slightly weighty acoustic, is of excellent quality. The sound is just a little dry but not unacceptably so. The Mozart is refined but unaffected and the Beethoven cool and satisfyingly straightforward. In all I think that this disc displays some of the best characteristics of the Amadeus Quartet. Where some groups add a peasant weight to the Scherzo of Opus 127 (actually marked Scherzando vivace) the Amadeus delights in touching Beethoven’s many sudden detached phrases with wry delicacy. This is ‘late’ Beethoven with the elements of anguish understated.
There does not seem to have been much concentration on Amadeus Quartet reissues recently but the clear, lucid sound of this venerable recording is admirable and it would be interesting to know if Medici Arts has access to more.