will swivel when they see the name of the Amar-Hindemith
String Quartet. These are rare 78 sets, early electrics,
and they regularly reach a tidy three-figure sum as anyone
who has tried - and failed - to acquire them can testify.
The quartet comprised Licco Amar, Walter Caspar, Paul and
Rudolf Hindemith, at least for these 1926 recordings. The
aesthetic of the quartet was brisk, businesslike and tonally
rather retrogressive. Its repertoire was, conversely, sharply
attuned to contemporary trends, as one might perhaps expect
given its viola seat occupant.
The roll-call of composers
they performed is extensive but Odak, Sekles, Vogel, Jirak,
Jarnach, Beck and Finke are amongst the less well known – and
Delius, Debussy, Malipiero, Milhaud, Reger and Schoenberg
amongst the better known. They also devoted time to the classical
repertoire and indeed we have examples here of their ancient
and modern faces with Mozart and Beethoven surrounding the
first ever recording of a Bartók quartet, the second.
Lionel Tertis’s rather sour verdict on his colleague Hindemith – his
antipode in matters of voluptuous tonal resources – one might
expect The Amar-Hindemith to correspond to certain Germanic
traits of string playing. And this they faithfully do. They
are tonally rather dry and their music making is straightforward
really to a fault. Allied to a certain rigidity comes a rather
limited dynamic response. This comes across in all three
works though it’s most noticeable in the Mozart and Beethoven.
In the latter I sense a lack of optimal tonal congruity between
violinists Amar and Caspar, though it’s fair to say that
Hindemith was not ideal in this respect either.
rather thin tones, lack of vibrance and pervasive portamneti
mark out this Bartók as a most unusual performance. It will
be pretty much unlike any other performance you will have
heard. The slow movement is expressive but in a very particular
way – one unwarmed by any tonal drama, with its structure
revealed through acute pointing. Hearing Hindemith playing
Bartók is in itself something of a historic coup and if your
previous experience of his viola playing was limited to the
string trio sides he made with Goldberg and Feuermann or
the sonata recordings he made in America then these sides
will be revelatory.
against the deficiencies of these three recordings as successful
performances is the historical significance of this group
and its pioneering work in music making in the 1920s. The
notes are by Tully Potter and are first class. He mentions
Busch of course, it’s true, but resists the temptation to
bash anyone. The transfers have dealt well with the pitching
though these are rare sides and I don’t know how many sets
the Arbiter team was able to access. For this reason there
is a fair amount of blasting from time to time and a slightly
jerky side join in the first movement of the Bartók. Surface
noise is relatively high but perfectly acceptable – treble
frequencies give air and transparency to the upper parts
and this is greatly to be appreciated.
is an important disc. The Amar-Hindemith Quartet’s legacy
has been unavailable now for many years and whatever one’s
feelings for these performances and for the group, pro and
contra, they are necessary acquisitions for anyone with any
interest in the string quartet on disc in the first half
of the twentieth century.