Smetana - String Quartet No. 1 in E minor, "From My Life" - Tchaikovsky - Scherzo from the String Quartet in E flat minor, Op. 30 - Curtis String Quartet - Jascha Brodsky, 1st Violin / Charles Jaffe, 2nd Violin / Max Aronoff, Viola / Orlando Cole, Violoncello (recorded March 13, 1940, New York City - Columbia set M-405)
Schumann - String Quartet No.1 in A minor, Op. 41, No. 1 - Roth String Quartet - Feri Roth, 1st Violin / Rachmael Weinstock, 2nd Violin / Julius Schaier, Viola / Oliver Edel, Violoncello (recorded October 28, 1940, Liederkranz Hall, New York City - Columbia set M-454)
Schumann - String Quartet No.1 in A minor, Op. 41, No. 1 - String Quartet No. 3 in A major, Op. 41, No. 3 - Curtis String Quartet - Jascha Brodsky, 1st Violin / Louis Berman, 2nd Violin / Max Aronoff, Viola / Orlando Cole, Violoncello (Westminster WL 5166, issued 1952)
I'm pleased to be able to offer these recordings from two formerly important and renowned string quartets. To the best of my knowledge, this material isn't currently available outside private collections. These are all very beautiful performances - and in terms of the reproduction of nuance, (especially the 1940 recordings) possess considerable clarity. The divergence in respective interpretative approaches of the Curtis Quartet's recording of Schumann's A minor Quartet with the earlier version by the Roth Quartet, I think, more than justifies including both versions together - not to mention the scarcity of recordings from the Roth Quartet in general.
The Roth String Quartet made 35 recordings for Columbia (but I'm not certain whether this includes those recordings which were never issued, in which case the number could exceed 40). A small handful of these recordings has been reissued on CD - a single quartet from Mozart and several works of Dohnanyi, plus the important 1934 recording of Roy Harris' arrangement Bach's Art of the Fugue.
To quote from the Columbia Record Catalogue of 1947:
"The Roth String Quartet was founded by Feri Roth [1899-1969], leader and first violinist of the Quartet, in 1922, and reorganized in 1938. Roth comes from the great Hungarian Academy of Jeno Hubay, while the three other artists were with the well-known Austrian pedagogue, Kortschak. The Quartet's repertory is broad and is distinguished by inclusion of well-known and rarely heard classical chamber music works, as well as the music of important contemporary composers [a life-long champion of New Music, Roth had personal contacts with many important figures of 20th century musical life including: George Antheil, Alfredo Cassela, Carlos Chavez, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, Aaron Copland, David Diamond, Lukas Foss, Benny Goodman, Morton Gould, Roy Harris, Andre Previn, Artur Schnabel, William Schuman, Roger Sessions, Marcel Vertes, and Meredith Willson].
The Roth Quartet first came to America in 1928 for a chamber musical festival at Pittsfield under the auspices of Mrs. Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge. Since that time, the Quartet has concertized in America annually and, in recent years, has made this country its permanent home."
(For more information about Feri Roth and the Roth Quartet, see the below text from the University of California where Roth was a professor beginning in 1947.)
Information about the once very famous Curtis String Quartet - strangely enough - seems a little more difficult to put together these days than information concerning the Roth Quartet (in 1936, the Curtis Quartet was celebrated enough to be chosen by the English Speaking Union to musically represent the USA at the Silver Jubilee of King George V of England - among some other rather high honors given to them).
The Quartet takes its name from Philadelphia's famed Curtis Institute of Music where its members belonged, on a long-standing and productive basis, to the Curtis faculty. Founded in 1927, the quartet finally split up in 1981 with the death of their violist Max Aronoff (the 1940 recordings have Charles Jaffee playing 2nd Violin while Louis Berman occupies this position in the 1952 Westminster issue. For at least as much information as one can find in the internet about the Curtis Quartet, see the included scans of notes for these recordings).
I'm not certain about how many recordings the Curtis Quartet made in total. The 1940 recordings appear to be the only ones made for Columbia, while two Quartets from Brahms are listed on the jacket of the Westminster release (I've only been able to discover a single CD anthology which features the Curtis Quartet playing Barber's "Adagio for Strings" - the original 2nd movement of the String Quartet, Op. 11).
LP transfer of material issued 1952 (Westminster); restorations of 78 rpm material recorded 1940 (Columbia)
(cover, scans of original notes included) Good, clean sound.
Note on the 78 rpm pressings: both of the recordings from 1940 (Columbia sets M-405 and M-454) are restorations of 78rpm material whose original sound quality ranged (before restoration) from very good to middle-of-the-road "good." The four discs of M-405 (Smetana Quartet / Tchaikovsky - which had unusually good sound before restoration) could be "first edition" Columbia pressings - but they are definitely of Canadian make. Columbia 78s pressed in Canada were known (and especially prized among American collectors) for their superior surface quality and were identifiable by silver lettering on their album spines as opposed to the gold lettering of American Columbia (at least, so I was informed by a late friend who had sold classical records during the 1930s in LA - and the person I owe thanks to for having given me these wonderful records). The three discs of M-454 (Roth-Schumann A minor Quartet) are of American manufacture and estimated to be from the mid- to late 1940s - hence, the slightly lower level of their surface quality (since Columbia 78s became progressively noisier, etc. as the 1940s progressed).
Finally these restorations were what one calls "a labor of love" (and I hope to be presenting more rare recordings of this kind in the near furture).
Born July 18, 1899, at Zvolen, Czechoslovakia, Feri Roth received his musical training at the Royal Hungarian Academy of Music in Budapest where he graduated in 1917. His first position was the concertmastership of the Budapest Opera from 1919-1920; a year later he joined the Berlin Volksoper in the same capacity. In 1922, he founded the string quartet which bore his name for forty-seven years. Two years later, the quartet made a successful debut in Paris, then embarked on a tour of Europe and Africa. On an invitation from Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge in 1928, the quartet, reorganized to include Jeno Antal, Ferenc Molnar, and Janos Scholz, made its first appearance in the United States at the Pittsfield (Massachusetts) Music Festival. Subsequently, the quartet concertized throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico, participating in concerts at the Library of Congress, giving many concerts of modern works in New York City and Washington, and performing all of Beethoven's string quartets including his Grosse Fuge.
In 1937, the quartet joined the faculty of Westminster Choir College at Princeton University. Resigning from the college in 1939, Mr. Roth assembled a new group consisting of former members of the Manhattan String Quartet: Rachmael Weinstock, Julius Shaier, and Oliver Edel. In 1947, Roth began his long association with UCLA, joining the Department of Music as Lecturer. In 1960, he was named full professor. During his years at the University, he made further changes in the personnel of the quartet. The group that was most familiar to concert goers included Thomas Marrocco, professor of music at UCLA; Irving Weinstein; and Cesare Pascarella, UCLA lecturer in music. It was principally this combination that Roth led in his yearly festivals of Beethoven's chamber music. He made many other important contributions. Occasionally he would exchange his violin and bow for the conductor's baton and lead larger chamber music ensembles in performances of concertos by Vivaldi, Handel, and Bach, and of Bach's The Art of Fugue. For more than ten years, he organized the Tuesday Noon Concerts, a weekly production of the Department of Music in Schoenberg Hall Auditorium. His authoritative and stimulating teaching found expression in a continuing series of chamber music classes, and his course on the music of Bach and Beethoven attracted thousands of students.
A champion of modern music, Roth's quartet performed in concert many works by composer-colleagues in the department, and gave public readings of newly composed works by graduate students. This service was invaluable. In its off-campus appearances, the Roth Quartet concertized widely, not only on the west coast, where it gave many performances each year, but also on the east coast, in Canada, and in Great Britain. During 1963 and again in 1966, the quartet played a series of concerts in London; and in the spring of 1968, it presented the entire cycle of Beethoven's quartets in New York City's Lincoln Center. A further presentation of the cycle, scheduled for Elizabeth Hall, London, in the spring of 1969 had to be cancelled because of Roth's death, on May 7, 1969.
During its long history, the Roth Quartet recorded thirty-five albums for Columbia Masterworks and five for the Society for Forgotten Masterpieces. Especially important is the quartet's recording of Bach's Art of the Fugue, in the Harris-North transcription. In 1966, the Roth Quartet was televised at UCLA during performances of two Beethoven quartets: Opus 74 (The Harp) and Opus 95 (Serioso). The video tapes are valuable to students, and also to amateurs, for their visual clues to the secret of successful quartet performances.
Feri Roth was the recipient of the Award of Merit from the National Association of American Composers and Conductors in 1942 for outstanding service to American music, and he was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Music from the New York College of Music in 1949. He was a member of the Beethoven Association of New York, the International Society for Contemporary Music of London, the Mozart Society of Salzburg, and the Triton Music Society of Paris.