The legendary Hollywood String Quartet play Brahms, Dvorák, Schubert & Smetana
"...splendid attack and finesse, superb blend and flawless intonation..." - Gramophone
Hollywood String Quartet:
Felix Slatkin violin
Paul Shure violin
Paul Robyn viola
*Alvin Dinkin viola
Eleanor Aller cello
Recorded at Capitol Studios, Hollywood
Transfers from EMI box set RLS 765
All downloads include a complete set of scores
REVIEW of EMI reissue, 1982
These legendary recordings have been out of circulation for more than two decades, and their return cannot be too warmly welcomed. For younger readers the Hollywood Quartet flourished briefly during the early years of the long-playing record. Its leader, Felix Slatkin (father of the conductor, Leonard Slatkin) was a pupil of Zimbalist and Remer, and in 1937 became leader of the 20th Century Fox Orchestra. All the members of the Quartet were principals in various Hollywood film studio orchestras, and the ensemble did not attract attention outside the West Coast of America until the advent of LP when they recorded such repertoire as the Walton A minor Quartet and the Sixth of Villa-Lobos (Capitol mono CTL7004,6/51—nla) and the Prokofiev Second coupled with Hindemith’s Third (CTL7016, 4/52—nla) in performances which I do not believe have been surpassed. On its first appearance in 1952, the authors of The Record Guide, Edward Sackville-West and Desmond Shawe-Taylor, hailed the Schubert String Quintet (with Kurt Reher as second cello) as "one of the very best in the discography of chamber music", no small claim but one that does not seem to me overstated. I have periodically played this version over the years and with unfailing satisfaction for apart from their technical finish and perfect ensemble, they seem to penetrate further below the surface than do most of their rivals. I have also long admired their account with Victor Aller of the Brahms F minor Quintet, which it so happens that I played to a visitor quite recently. (My original copy bore traces of flutter that proved particularly irksome on the piano in the slow movement, and I was delighted to find that the present transfer has no such defect and has a wider range.) It is a powerful and thoughtful performance, and holds its own against such distinguished rivals as Serkin with the Busch Quartet (World Records mono SHB61, 4/81) from the 1930s, and the 1969 Eschenbach / Amadeus (DG 2535 418, 2/81). It certainly has more concentration and poetry than the (to my mind much overrated) version by Poilini and the Quartetto Italiano (DG 2531 197, 9/80). The Dvorak originally appeared in harness with the Third Quartet of Dohnányi, and my first reaction was to regret that EMI had not left this coupling undisturbed — until, that is, I heard the Smetana. Both these performances were new to me and both strike me as hardly less superb than their companions. The style of these artists has dated much less than many other ensembles: they possess splendid attack and finesse, superb blend and flawless intonation, though there is at times an unrelieved intensity and glare in the leader’s tone. The sound is remarkably good for its period with plenty of presence and body, though the acoustic is on the small side. Much care has been taken with the transfers and the sound is first class. Those who recall the originals will need no promptings from me to invest in this set. Let us hope that EMI will follow it up with the late Beethoven quartets and an anthology (which will involve no threat of excessive duplication) with, perhaps, their Hindemith, Villa-Lobos, Prokofiev, Schoenberg's Verklärte Nacht and the Shostakovich Quintet. In the meantime, this is recommended with enthusiasm.
R.L., Gramophone, February 1982
Notes on the recordings:
Sometimes I transfer and remaster recordings for purely selfish reasons - the simple desire to play the records and then hear them in their full glory after remastering. This is one of those occasions: one of my favourite chamber ensembles playing some of my favourite music. I had not read the review reprinted here until I was intimately acquainted with the recordings, and I'm happy to see my own judgement mirrored. The records were all appeared in mint condition and played perfectly. Pitching was unusual however: it's hard to believe the quartet played at the unusually high pitch of A4=~450Hz at which some of these recordings were found, leading me to suspect errors in EMI's 1982 transfers. Here they're pitched to concert standard 440Hz. I also noticed the acoustic being "on the small side" and have helped open it out slightly. XR remastering has performed wonders with instrumental tone, with the final results bringing me the great personal satisfaction and enjoyment I'd hoped for.
Hollywood String Quartet
Notes from Wikipedia
The Hollywood String Quartet (HSQ) was a string quartet founded by violinst/conductor Felix Slatkin and his wife cellist Eleanor Aller. The Hollywood String Quartet is considered to be the first American-born and trained classical music chamber group to make an international impact, mainly though its landmark recordings. These recordings have long been regarded as some of the most outstanding recorded performances of the string quartet repertoire.
The musicians of the Hollywood String Quartet were the leading players in the major movie studio orchestras producing the vibrant, lush film soundtracks during the “Golden Age of Hollywood.” In 1939, the same year as their marriage, Felix Slatkin and Eleanor Aller formed the HSQ.
In its original formation, Slatkin and Aller were joined by violist Paul Robyn and second violinist Joachim Chassman. However, the group disbanded soon thereafter when the three male members enlisted in WWII service. The HSQ resumed its activities in 1947, with Paul Shure replacing Chassman as second violinist. In 1955, Paul Robyn left the group and Alvin Dinkin assumed the viola chair.
In addition to their work in the Hollywood studio orchestras and recording classical repertoire, the HSQ members regularly performed as session musicians at the major record companies, including Capitol Records. At Capitol, they accompanied some of the leading pop performers of the era, most notably Frank Sinatra, for whom Felix Slatkin acted as concertmaster and occasional conductor on his now iconic Capitol recordings during the 1950s. Among these recordings was the 1956 Close to You, which featured the HSQ accompanying Sinatra in arrangements by Nelson Riddle.
The HSQ officially disbanded in 1961 as Felix Slatkin’s interest turned more to conducting. Slatkin died two years later at the age of 47.
The five musicians of the HSQ were all the progeny of Russian immigrants. All excelled musically in their youth and were formally trained at either the Juilliard School or the Curtis Institute of Music. The musicians were:
Felix Slatkin (1915-1963) Violin; Studied at Curtis with renowned violinist Efrem Zimbalist and conducting with Fritz Reiner; at age 15 was a member of the St. Louis Symphony under conductor Vladimir Golschmann; Concert Master of the 20th Century Fox Studio Orchestra(1937-1963) and the Capitol Sinatra recording sessions; conductor of the Concert Arts Orchestra and Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra.
Eleanor Aller Slatkin (1917-1995) Cello; Studied at Juilliard with Felix Salmond; First cello with the Warner Bros. Studio Orchestra from 1939-1968 and with the 20th Century Fox Orchestra from 1972-1985.
Paul Shure (1921-2011) Second Violin Studied at Curtis with Joseph Akron; youngest player in the Philadelphia Orchestra at age 18 under conductor Leopold Stokowski; Assistant Concertmaster at 20th Century Fox; left the HSQ in 1958 and shortly thereafter assumed a faculty position at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music; concertmaster of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra from 1972-1987 as well as other major west coast ensembles.
Paul Robyn (1908-1970) Viola; Studied at Juilliard with Joseph Fuchs, Samuel Gardner and Hans Letz; Violist with the Gordon String Quartet (1931-1935); Principal Violist at Warner Brothers; Left the HSQ in 1955; replaced by Alvin Dinkin.
Alvin Dinkin (1912-1970) Viola; Studied at Curtis with Louis Bailly; played in St. Louis Symphony and 20th Century Fox Orchestras with Felix Slatkin.
In addition, pianist Victor Aller(1905-1977) was featured on several HSQ recordings, including the acclaimed Brahms Piano Quintets. Aller, the brother of cellist Eleanor, studied at Juilliard under Josef Lhévinne. He had a long and distinguished career as a pianist in the film industry and manager of the Warner Bros. Studio Orchestra, and as a teacher and recording artist.
The Slatkins’ elder son, conductor Leonard Slatkin, has observed that the similarities among musicians’ backgrounds and music training impacts their technique and resulting sound as an ensemble: "With the Hollywood String Quartet, you had four people who basically had the same kind of training; four people who were more or less of the same age group and who approached music in almost identical ways."
The resulting sound has been described as a “luxuriant glow." In a 1958 concert review, the New York Times wrote the HSQ produced a “luminous tone, whether in pianissimo or fortissimo...at its best as in the Schubert work, which was played with incredible tonal nuance and expert musicianship, the Hollywood Quartet would have to be listed among the world’s great chamber music ensembles.”
Violinist Paul Shure has noted, “… we made room for each other technically and soloistically-but the blend of sound was the main thing…you draw the sound by your ability; the kind of vibrato you use, the way you apply pressure to the bow…these are all very subtle techniques in string playing." Shure has also stated: “Dynamics were a very big part of our work. Our discussions were always about dynamics and a little bit about tempi, and nothing else. We played with vibrato except where there was a particular effect to be had-no dead left hands were allowed.”
Classical music commentator Tully Potter has also discussed the HSQ’s “remarkable transparency of texture…this clarity was due in part to their excellent intonation and partly through their thorough preparation…what set them above…was their ability to combine warmth, color, and intensity with intellectual rigor, firm rhythm and an intuitive grasp of a work’s architecture.” Eleanor Aller also commented: “Nothing was done without thought…it was dependent on who the composer was, and the musical content…just to play the notes is not making music.”Aller has also stated that the group practiced every day for two years before ever playing a note in public.
From 1949-1958, the HSQ recorded a series of classical albums for Capitol Records; these recordings were re-released in CD format by Testament Records during the 1990s. The HSQ repertoire included several contemporary compositions, garnering enthusiastic praise from some of the leading quartet composers of the Twentieth Century. Among Aller’s treasured possessions was a photo inscribed by composer Arnold Schoenberg: “For the Hollywood String Quartet for playing my Verklärte Nacht with such subtle beauty."
The HSQ was the first to record the String Quartet in A Minor by Sir William Walton. The composer has been quoted :“…I hope no one else ever records my Quartet again, because you captured so exactly what I had wanted…”. Walton’s music publisher from Oxford University Press also wrote to violist Paul Robyn: "I felt I would like to add…how much Dr. Walton and I enjoyed your playing of the very prominent viola part of this work. Would there not be a chance one day that you could play his Viola Concerto…?” However, close to retirement,Robyn never recorded Walton’s Viola Concerto.
Composer Paul Creston responded to their 1953 recording of his Quartet by writing to the album's producer Robert Myers: “I am tremendously pleased with the performance and reproduction of the work…would you be so kind as to convey my deepest appreciation and gratitude to the Hollywood String Quartet for their splendid execution. Reports of their fine abilities had already reached me before I was fortunate enough to become acquainted with them, and I am delighted that they were chosen to permanently preserve my composition.”
The critics were similarly impressed with the HSQ recordings. Music critic and historian Alfred Frankenstein wrote: ”This is a quartet to rank with the great international organizations in the field…it has magnificent collective tone, a superb style that overlooks no fine detail but also sweeps through the major lines of a big work with almost symphonic vigor, and a general concept of music-making that is in tradition of the ensemble. Of the Brahms Quintet in F Minor with pianist Victor Aller, Paul Affelder in High Fidelity Magazine commented: “They give the glowing Brahms score a firm yet warm and flexible reading, making their version one of the best on disks.” About the Tchaikovsky Quartet No. 1 and the Borodin Quartet No. 2 in D, Francis Klein wrote in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “…the playing is so fresh and vivid, so well integrated and so tonally rich that it is as if you are hearing these for the initial time.”
A complete classical discography is located at the end of this article. With the exception of the first record, the original recordings were produced by either Richard C. Jones or Robert E. Myers with engineering by John Palladino, Sherwood Hall III, Hugh Davies, or Carson Taylor (as noted). The CD reissues, released between 1993-1997, were remastered by Paul Bally at the Abbey Road Studios; Stewart Brown, Executive Producer.
Another highlight of the HSQ's recording legacy is the 1956 Frank Sinatra album Close to You produced by Voyle Gilmore; a series of popular songs arranged by Nelson Riddle in an impressionistic blend of popular, classical and jazz influences. Close to You was a unique project, a scaled-down approach to popular music which remains among Sinatra's most enduring albums. The project was in part the product of Frank Sinatra's close professional and personal friendship with Felix and Eleanor Slatkin.
In Sessions with Sinatra; Frank Sinatra and the Art of Recording, Sinatra historian Chuck Granata observes "In Slatkin, Sinatra found a kindred spirit, as the violinist's immaculate playing paralleled what Sinatra sought to achieve with his voice; serious listeners will note many similarities comparing Sinatra’s and Slatkin’s individual approaches to musical interpretation. One hallmark of the HSQ was its long, smooth phrasing which was accomplished through controlled bowing techniques; Sinatra utilized breath control to realize the same effect. Likewise where Felix would frequently add slight upward portamento to a critical note and neatly strike an emotional chord, the singer would often inflect a note upward or downward or seamlessly glide from one key to another."
Granata observes that the concept behind Close to You was "...extremely progressive by the standard of its day." He further concludes that "from a thematic standpoint, of all the Sinatra LPs of his 'golden era,' Close to You comes closest to perfection."
The HSQ toured in the United States seven times, and visited Canada and New Zealand, but due to the musicians’ extensive studio commitments, concerts were primarily limited to the Southern California area. However, the HSQ was the first American quartet to be invited to the Edinburgh Festival during a 1957 tour that also included appearances in Stockholm, Rome and the Royal Albert Hall in London. A live recording of select Royal Albert Hall performances was issued in CD form in the 1996.”
The nascent National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) initiated the Grammy Awards in 1958, toward the end of the HSQ’s recording career. At the first Grammy ceremony, the HSQ recording of the Beethoven Quartet No. 13 was awarded the Grammy for Best Classical Performance, Chamber Music (including Chamber Orchestra). Felix Slatkin was also a Trustee of the Los Angeles Chapter of NARAS.
In 1994, the Hollywood String Quartet won the prestigious Gramophone Magazine Award in the “Historic Non-Vocal” category for the Testament Records compact disc of the Schoenberg Verklärte Nacht and Schubert Quintet in C Major.
In 1997, the Cannes Classical Award voted by an international panel of record reviewers honored the recording of the Late Beethoven Quartets and honored the Hollywood String Quartet with its Lifetime Achievement Award, accepted by Paul Shure, at the time the last surviving HSQ member.
Eleanor and Felix Slatkin’s two sons enjoy significant careers in music. Leonard Slatkin is a noted orchestra conductor and currently the music director of the Detroit Symphony and the Orchestre National de Lyon. Frederick Zlotkin (who adopted the original family surname) is the first cello of the New York City Ballet Orchestra and a member of the Lyric Piano Quintet.
The HSQ has no connection with the group which calls itself “the New Hollywood String Quartet.”
Notes from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hollywood_String_Quartet