Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Warm music from the Cold War

The latest edition in Audite's excellent series of The RIAS Amadeus Quartet Recordings is volume V, entitled Romanticism.  It's a six-CD set containing music by Brahms, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Verdi, Bruckner, Dvorak and Grieg. About a third of the works have never appeared on CD by this distinguished group, so it's a welcome release indeed.

RIAS stands for Rundfunk im amerikanischen Sektor (Broadcasting in the American Sector), a radio (and later TV) station set up in 1946, which broadcast from West Berlin throughout the Cold War. I listened to RIAS on shortwave (on the 49 Meter Band) back in the late 1960s and early 70s, though probably not to The Amadeus Quartet. I remember receiving a QSL card like this one, which shows the former IG Farben branch office on Kufsteiner Straße, RIAS broadcasting centre from 1948, and now headquarters of Deutschlandradio Kultur.  Our recordings were made in this building.

The Quartet itself is from this period; the group was created in 1947 and played with its original founding members until 1987, when the Berlin Wall was still up. And child of that period that I am, "Amadeus" sounds like "String Quartet" to my brain. I wore out the Deutsche Grammophon LPs of the Beethoven Quartets, and later their Schubert, Schumann and Mendelssohn. So this music seems natural and authentic to me; I love their close ensemble and polished sound. To me this sophisticated approach is intuitively the proper style for chamber music of the 19th century, though I've also come to appreciate other more individual, less genteel ways of playing.

These recordings come from the 1950s and 60s. They represent the useful compromise of the broadcast studio rather than the recording studio, with a controlled acoustic environment, a comfortable and increasingly familiar space for musicians and technicians, but with less focus on technical perfection and more of the excitement of a live performance. And speaking of familiarity, the guest artists who appear here, violist Cecil Aronowitz, pianist Conrad Hansen, and clarinettist Heinrich Geuser, are all well used to playing with the Amadeus Quartet. They all shine here as brightly as these four great string players: violinists Norbert Brainin and Siegfmund Nissel, violist Peter Schidlof and cellist Martin Lovett.

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