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One of the finest versions


Albert ROUSSEL (1869-1937)
String Quartet in D major Op. 45 (1932) [20:18]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
String Quartet No. 2 in F, Op.92 ‘On Kabardinian themes’ (1941) [22:03]
Loewenguth Quartet
rec. October 1950, Kongress-saal, Munich (Roussel) and June 1953, Beethoven-saal, Hannover (Prokofiev)

Though recorded several years apart both quartets in this retrieval were released on a single DG LP. The Roussel was the earlier, taped in Munich in October 1950, the Prokofiev following in June 1953 in Hannover. As I wrote in the course of a review of a Doremi reissue of their Mozart and Haydn recordings, the Loewenguth Quartet was founded back in 1929 by Alfred Loewenguth, when competition from other native French groups was tough, it slowly gained ground, making its first North American tour in 1945. Their early recorded metier in the 1930s and 40s was Mozart and Beethoven; after which they were taken up by DG and then a raft of labels including Vox, prominently, and Philips and Westminster amongst others. Their discography is pretty extensive and includes 78 sets as well as LPs.

The Roussel recording is one of their very best. It’s full of quivering Gallic flair and bowed lightly, with lissome elegance and refinement. The inner voices - Maurice Fueri the second violinist, Roger Roche the violist – are alive in the balance and they really make something of the first movement, which occasionally jettisons its avuncular character for something a little sterner. A strong underlying rhythmic pulse ensures the Adagio is both expressively beautiful but also avoids any sense of clogging. The patina of the ensemble’s tone here is especially lovely. It helps that the Roussel is an intensely communicative and likeable work – it’s pretty bewildering that it’s not more often played: it’s just as good as the Second Violin Sonata - but it takes a quartet of real stylistic assurance to bring it off as well as here. Try the deft pizzicati of the scherzo or the fugato elements in the finale, with its quicksilver, glinting eloquence.

The 1950 mono sound is up to DG’s fine standards of the day, though obviously there are several contemporary recordings that fit the bill better in terms of sound quality. That’s also true of the Prokofiev. If you’re thinking of a great Prokofiev 2 from this period you’d first go to the Hollywood String Quartet, who had recorded it two years earlier for Capitol (it’s been reissued in the big Hollywood tranche on Testament). The glamorous sheen of that performance is well-nigh unbeatable in terms of corporate charisma but if you want something a little more rugged, a touch more pesante, then lend an ear to the Loewenguth. Less high voltage but also less self-consciously beautiful in tone than the Hollywood, the folkloric depths of the music are arguably the more viscerally displayed in this reading and their robust lyricism in the slow movement offers a viable alternative to the Capitol traversal.

There are printed internet links and no notes. These finely transferred performances reinforce the quality of this quartet.

Jonathan Woolf


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