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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers


Ernest BLOCH (1880-1959)
String Quartet No. 2 (1945) [34:02]
Heitor VILLA-LOBOS (1887-1959)
Quartet No. 6 in E major Quartetto Brasileiro No. 2 (1938) [24:30]
Stuyvesant Quartet
rec. 1947

In the post-war decade, as one of the first all-American string quartets, the Stuyvesants led the way in the States for such ensembles as the Juilliard, Hollywood and Fine Arts. Whereas these three ensembles have been well represented on disc, the Stuyvesants have been somewhat cast in the shadows — Bridge and Parnassus have gone some way to remedying this.

Founded in 1938 by the two Shulman brothers, Sylvan the violinist and Alan the cellist/composer, the quartet’s activities were severely curtailed by the outbreak of the Second World War. In 1945, the brothers reformed the quartet and changes in personnel welcomed Bernard Robbins as second violin and Ralph Hersch as viola. This new line-up gave its first concert on 9 December 1945 with works by Hindemith, Shostakovich and Quincy Porter. Renowned for their adventurous repertoire, emphasis was placed on twentieth century composers yet they did not neglect the standard classical repertoire.

Ernest Bloch’s String Quartet No. 2, completed in 1945, was composed against the backdrop of the Second World War. This performance truly captures the anguish and despair that permeates its soul. The opening movement is forlorn and disconsolate. A forceful, declamatory Presto follows, which sounds angry and aggrieved. Anguish and despair informs the Andante, and the angst-ridden final movement is dispatched with passionate intensity. The Stuyvesant prove worthy advocates and play with utter commitment.

The Villa Lobos Sixth Quartet is titled Quartetto Brasileiro No. 2. The polyrhythms that characterize the first movement reflect the sertão, the semi-arid region in North-eastern Brazil. The first movement alternates between busy, bustling and calm, and is enmeshed with modal harmonies. The Stuyvesants are rhythmically incisive, and ensemble has notable precision. Alan Shulman’s cello, set against pizzicato strings in the second movement has a doleful quality. I love the way the players evoke a dark, sombre and even austere mood in the Andante. In contrast the finale is more light-hearted but complex rhythmically. This proves no challenge to these players, who bring the music to life with vitality and incandescence.

Taken from Concert Hall LPs, these quartets have been expertly restored and re-mastered. The Stuyvesant Quartet offers some captivating playing and distinguished musicianship. Worth exploring.

Stephen Greenbank




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