Schneider Quartet's Haydn Recordings Reissued | KERA News

Schneider Quartet's Haydn Recordings Reissued

Feb 12, 2015

Among the best loved recordings from the 1950s were 15 LPs of Haydn string quartets played by the Schneider Quartet. They originally appeared on the Haydn Society label, but were never reissued on CD until now. Fresh Air classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz has a review.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Among the best-loved recordings from the 1950s fifties were 15 LPs of Haydn string quartets played by the Schneider Quartet. They originally appeared on the Haydn Society label, but they were never reissued on CD until now. Classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz has a review.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOSEPH HAYDN SONG PERFORMED BY SCHNEIDER QUARTET)

LLOYD SCHWARTZ, BYLINE: A few weeks ago, I discovered that Music And Arts, one of my favorite classical labels, has just reissued a series of recordings from the 1950s that have never appeared on CD. I immediately wrote to a few friends whom I knew would be excited. I'm so glad you told me about this, one of them wrote back. It's the last item from the recordings available when I began collecting records that I've still been looking for. This is a set of Haydn string quartets with an extraordinary group of string players, the Schneider Quartet, assembled by Alexander, or as he was known to his friends, Sasha Schneider, the longtime second violinist of the renowned Budapest String Quartet. He is joined by violinist Isidore Cohen, who later joined the Juilliard Quartet, violist Karen Tuttle, who headed the viola and chamber music departments at the Curtis Institute of Music, and cellist Madeline Foley, a disciple of the great cellist Pablo Casals and one of Yo-Yo Ma's teachers. Foley was later replaced by Hermann Busch, a member of the legendary Busch Quartet of the 1930s. These are some high-power credentials. But credentials alone don't make such wonderful performances.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOSEPH HAYDN SONG PERFORMED BY SCHNEIDER QUARTET)

SCHWARTZ: Haydn was essentially the inventor of the modern string quartet, just as he was of the classical symphony. He gave each of the four players an individual voice, if not always an equal one. So each quartet is a kind of civilized conversation. And with Haydn, the formal structure of the classical style allows an astonishingly nuanced range of emotions that embrace both comedy and tragedy so that even the slightest change of key or tempo can reveal a whole new attitude. Just the titles of some of the quartets suggest Haydn's great variety, "The Bird," "The Frog," "The Joke," "Sunrise," "Emperor." Some fine groups don't always tune in to these emotional shifts, and what they play sounds preciously antique. Others coarsen the subtleties by playing them up with a heavy hand. But this is where the Schneider Quartet surpasses almost every other ensemble. They are so totally with the music, inside it, that their playing offers a perfect balance between understatement and the deepest feeling.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOSEPH HAYDN SONG PERFORMED BY SCHNEIDER QUARTET)

SCHWARTZ: Haydn wrote somewhere around 70 string quartets over his long career. Scholars are still debating the exact number. The Schneider Quartet performed all of them in concert. But money for the recordings ran out before they finished the complete project. So a handful of Haydn masterpieces are missing from this set. Still, they managed to record 46-and-a-half quartets, plus "The Seven Last Words Of Christ On The Cross," a work Haydn composed originally for orchestra that has an introduction, seven wrenching slow movements and a conclusion called "Earthquake." And here they all are, impeccably, splendidly remastered.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOSEPH HAYDN SONG PERFORMED BY SCHNEIDER QUARTET)

SCHWARTZ: This set is dedicated to the memory of Fred Maroth, the cultured founder of the Music And Arts label, who died in 2013 - the perfect tribute. There's even a special deal, 15 CDs for the price of eight. I love these recordings and what they represent. And I want everyone I know and everyone I don't know to hear them.

GROSS: Lloyd Schwartz teaches in the MFA program in creative writing at the University of Massachusetts Boston and is senior editor of classical music for the online journal New York Arts. He reviewed the new 15-CD set of Haydn string quartets, played by the Schneider Quartet on the Music And Arts label. If you have trouble coordinating your schedule with our broadcast schedule, try our podcast. You can subscribe on iTunes or your mobile podcast app. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.