Piano Quartet in G minor, K478
Piano Quartet in E flat, K493
Clarinet Quintet in A, K581
George Szell (piano)
Benny Goodman (clarinet)
Budapest String Quartet [Joseph Roisman & Alexander Schneider (violins), Boris Kroyt (viola) & Mischa Schneider (cello)]
Piano Quartets recorded August 1946 in Hollywood; Clarinet Quintet recorded April 1938 in New York City
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: April 2007
CD No: NAXOS HISTORICAL
Duration: 70 minutes
These are classic performances from a bygone era that are here expertly preserved and made available to all. The G minor Piano Quartet goes with a sway and shows George Szell, sometimes regarded as a ruthless and cold-hearted conductor, to have been a sensitive and accommodating pianist; blend and balance between him and the string players are finely judged, the members of the Budapest String Quartet (Alexander Schneider given a couple of days off!) golden-sounding and wonderfully expressive. Throughout tempos are ideally judged, the slow movement touches the heart, and the finale is nimble and playful.
The richly expansive E flat Piano Quartet also receives a rendition that is consummately realised – no false sentiment or rhetoric from musicians who were able to get to the heart of the matter with glowing character. Interplay between the foursome is as natural as it is beguiling.
In the famous recording of Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet, “The King of Swing”, Benny Goodman, who was classically trained (Bartók and Copland, and others, wrote pieces for him), brings his velvety tone to an unaffected performance, absolutely straight yet with a patrician sense of phrase that leaves little to be desired. It’s a lovely performance, often sublime in the Larghetto, the subsequent Minuet spaciously turned and the finale’s Variations delightfully characterised and, when required, with no lack of pathos.
These are all wonderful performances. The icing on the cake is Mark Obert-Thorn’s superb transfers that presents the music with a tonal faithfulness to reveal lucid and tangible textures uncontaminated by over-processing; such a time-taken listened-to transfer is typical and puts some other ‘audio restorers’ to shame. This is one of the jewels in the Naxos Historical crown; and that’s saying something!