CD Overview Chamber Music
- CD 19 Mozart: String Quartets (Amadeus Quartet)
- CD 20 Beethoven: String Quartets (Smetana Quartet)
- CD 21 Schubert: String Quintet (Vienna Konzerthaus Quartet, Günther Weiss)
- CD 22 Schubert: Octet (Vienna Konzerthaus Quartet, Wlach, Ölberger, Freiberg, Hermann)
- CD 23 Mendelssohn: Octet / Beethoven: String Quartet op. 59 No. 2 (Janácek & Smetana Quartets)
- CD 24 Dvorák: String Sextet in A major & String Quintet in E flat major
(European String Quartet, Strabl, Herzer)
- CD 28 Sor: Sonata / Turina: Homenaje a Tárrega / Villa-Lobos: Preludes (Julian Bream)
Chamber music on Westminster
Ten of the first 25 discs offered chamber music, which generally made up in lower recording costs what it lost through more modest sales: the best-seller of the first year was a chamber release, Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet with Paul Badura-Skoda, members of the Konzerthaus Quartet and bassist Josef Hermann. In 1950-53 the Konzerthaus foursome went on to record a virtually complete Schubert cycle (“virtually” because two movements of String Quartet No. 2 were not rediscovered by the scholar Maurice Brown until 1954). First to be issued was the great String Quintet in C major, in which the quartet members were joined by their usual second cellist, Günther Weiss (no relation to the quartet’s violist Erich Weis, who spelt his name differently). Their interpretation, slowing down lovingly for the cello duet in the first movement and generally highlighting the work’s lyrical qualities, was admired at the time and has often been reissued. Here was the pliant, portamento-rich Viennese string style in excelsis. Also successful was the Octet, with Wlach, Freiberg, Hermann and Karl Öhlberger, most characterful member of a bassoon-playing family. This delightful disc, which trumped its Viennese 78rpm rivals (the Schneiderhan ensemble on Columbia, with the same three wind players, and the Vienna Octet on Decca), could serve as an exemplar of the best of Westminster. The sleeve was strikingly designed in brown, black and cream, with an artist’s impressions of eight musicians down the left-hand side. On the back were exhaustive analytical notes by the dean of American record critics, Irving Kolodin. The disc label was simply designed in a squeezed sans-serif type (Westminster used eight label designs over the years, and they became more complex). Most importantly, the recording itself was clear, well balanced and sympathetic.
Another “Viennese” group heard on the label was the British-based Amadeus Quartet, comprising three Austrian refugees from Nazism and a locally born cellist of similar immigrant stock. Only in its fourth season when it was recorded by Westminster at Hampstead Parish Church in 1951, this ensemble had even called itself the “London Vienna Quartet” before hitting on the idea of taking Mozart’s middle name. Its inimitable interpretation of its name composer’s great G minor Quintet, with South African violist Cecil Aronowitz – almost a fifth member of the Amadeus – is here complete for the first time since its initial release: for an early single-sided reissue, rather than excise the exposition repeat in the Allegro to save space, someone lopped off the first statement of the exposition instead; and previous CD editions have used that compromised tape. The other Amadeus contribution is another of the ensemble’s finest interpretations, Mozart’s final quartet. By contrast, the European String Quartet, represented by a famous coupling of Dvorák’s Sextet and E flat Quintet, was echt wienerisch, although its members were associated not with the Philharmonic but with other orchestras. Its violinists were later better known as violists, Thomas Kakuska in the Alban Berg Quartet, Siegfried Führlinger in the Vienna Sextet. The Viennese way with Dvorák has always been rather smoother than the approach of native Czech players, but none the less valid.
Westminster did flirt with two Czech ensembles, but only briefly, and not in Czech music. The illustrious Smetana Quartet of Prague liked to play the Mendelssohn Octet with their colleagues of the Janácek Quartet of Brno; and in June 1959 these groups, who both played from memory, visited Vienna to set down their joint interpretation, brilliantly led by Jirí Novák. While there, both sets of players each made a Beethoven LP: the Smetanas did op. 18 no. 4 and the third “Razumovsky” – here receiving their first CD release – while the Janáceks did the second “Razumovsky”. Their slightly differing approaches to string playing can thus be studied, the Smetana Quartet polished, rhythmically alert, colourful and intense, the Janácek Quartet sharing many of their colleagues’ attributes but bowing more vigorously “into the string”.