The Vienna Philharmonic Quartet featured here had a very interesting
evolutionary history. In 1939 Wolfgang Schneiderhan, who was concertmaster
of the Vienna State Opera and its independent concert-giving component the
Philharmonic, founded the Musikverein Quartet with leading members of both
ensembles. War broke out later that year and, as a consequence, this first
group produced very few recordings. In 1951, Schneiderhan left the quartet
in pursuit of a solo career. Walter Barylli, a new concertmaster, assumed
the role of leader. The Musikverein Quartet thus became known as the Barylli
Quartet outside Vienna when on tour. In 1960, after several personnel
changes, Willi Boskovsky replaced Barylli. Boskovsky was also concertmaster
of the VSOO and VPO, and had previously led a quartet bearing his surname.
The quartet now became the Vienna Philharmonic Quartet, and as a result of
Boskovsky’s previous affiliation with Decca, they commenced recording
at the Sofiensaal, a venue noted for its fine acoustic.
This 2 CD set offers a very enticing programme in that it includes
three of Schubert’s most well-known and indeed most popular chamber
works. CD 1 contains the String Quartet No. 14 in D minor, D810 Death and
and the Quartettsatz
D703. On CD 2 we have the String
Quintet in C major, D956, composed in the last prolifically creative year of
his life. The other two lesser-known works are the String Trio, D471, a one
movement piece, and the delightful, early E flat major Quartet, D87.
Tully Potter makes the point in his illuminating accompanying notes
that these recordings are of historical significance in that they afford
the listener ‘the last gasp of a Viennese style of string
playing in Schubert which stemmed from before World War II’.
To me, the features of the Vienna Philharmonic Quartet’s style
which are distinctive are the sweet-toned delivery, with an emphasis
on the lyrical aspects of the works. Less stress is put on the darker
undercurrents. Grace and charm is ever-present and in abundance.
I found the Death and the Maiden
Quartet the least successful
of what is here. Taking a more comfortable and soft-grained view, the
approach renders the performance too cosy for my
taste. The Alban Berg Quartet (EMI CDC 747333) have more bite and drama in
the declamatory opening passage of the first movement. There is an
underlying sense of urgency in what follows. Similarly, the Belcea (EMI
967025) have a more dramatic take on events and create a certain tension as
they build up the excitement. In the second movement, the Belcea imbue the
opening theme with a greater sense of desolation, and in the Scherzo they
play with more bite and swagger.
The String Quintet fares somewhat better. The Sofiensaal offers a
sympathetic acoustic, and the Vienna Quartet render a performance which is
warm and lyrical. The Alban Berg (EMI CDC 470182) is more high-powered and
large-scaled and I preferred the more intimate reading. Yet, I still favour
the Belcea, who offer the benchmark in this work. Then there is the glorious
recording by the Hollywood String Quartet on Testament (SBT 1031) which I
would not like to be without. It is interesting to note from the CD booklet
that the late Sir Colin Davis liked this Vienna performance and chose it on
his ‘Desert Island Discs’.
The early E flat Quartet was written in 1813 and published posthumously.
An atmosphere of serenity permeates the work, and there is great thematic
richness throughout. Boskovsky’s rich mellifluous tone is beguiling
and the performance is heartfelt and captivating. Likewise in the Quartettsatz
and the one-movement String Trio. The same attributes of expressivity
These are highly polished performances, lovingly captured. It is
commendable that they have been restored to circulation. They would make a
pleasing addition to any chamber music collection.
Masterwork Index: String
10 & 12
and the Maiden Quartet
~~ String Quintet