The first great string quartet of the 20th Century
Mark Obert-Thorn completes the digital transfer of their electrical catalogue
"The feast courtesy of excellent restoration, this disc moves early into the Best of the Year recommendations...the Flonzaley Quartet (1902-1929) stands out as a true inspiration" - Gary Lemco, Audiophile Audition
"...These are vintage Flonzaley laid down before the break-up of that excellent organisation, and left to mature till now in the cellars at Hayes. Like all dated "vintages " they have the virtue of preserving something that would otherwise have been lost irretrievably—and a performance by the Flonzaley was well worth preserving. On the other hand, an old wine is often inclined to lack "body," and these two Flonzaley samples sound strangely light and ethereal beside the full-blooded modern recordings of the Budapest. The Schumann [Quartet in A minor, Op. 41, No. 1, not included here], indeed, cannot be regarded as entirely satisfactory; the extreme notes at both ends of the gamut do not actually disappear, but there are times when they do undoubtedly "fade." And there is a curious haze over a good deal of the part-writing that occasionally makes it impossible to distinguish all the detail. The Smetana is distinctly better, and the sensationally high B, long held by the first violin towards the end of the Finale, is quite able to make its presence felt. On the whole, this is the quartet I prefer; the " cuts " are regrettable, but not of paramount importance..."
from "Additions to the HMV Connoisseur Catalogue", The Gramophone, August 1932 - note that the UK issues being reviewed came out there several years after their original US releases.
Review of this release: American Record Guide, July/August 2010
Review of this release: Audiophile Audition
Notes on the recording:
The Flonzaley Quartet made its first recording attempts in 1913 for Victor, but its earliest issued discs date from five years later. From that time until its disbandment in 1929, the Flonzaley was the première string quartet ensemble on the Victor/HMV family of labels. They recorded prolifically, with 32 acoustic and 92 electric sides published during the 78 rpm era, as well as another 11 sides that were first issued on LP or CD. Even those numbers pale in comparison to the 860 total matrices they recorded. Their quest for perfection is evidenced by the high take number (13) on the medley of two Spirituals presented here. The issued take came only after having recorded the work over eight sessions stretching over fourteen months.
In 1992 and 1994, the Biddulph label released two sets of two CDs each featuring most of the Flonzaley’s electrical recordings, including some previously unpublished sides. In 2008, I transferred two more electrical sides of Christmas carols for A Very Pristine Christmas (Pristine Audio PAMX 005). The present release completes the digital reissue of all of the Flonzaley’s published electrical recordings.
The sources for the transfers were pre-war Victor “Gold” label pressings for the Smetana; “Z” pressings for the Dohnányi; and Orthophonic pressings for the remainder (which, unfortunately, I’ve never seen available on any quieter shellac).
I am indebted to Jon Samuels for his discography of the Flonzaley Quartet, published in the ARSC Journal in 1987, for the details regarding dates, matrix numbers and recording venues.
GRAMOPHONE CELEBRITIES No. XXVI
The Flonzaley Quartet
By C. A. BELL
Excerpt from The Gramophone archives, May 1930
see link below for the full article
"THE Greatest Quartet of the Day" is a title that has been applied to the Flonzaley Quartet for the best part of twenty years ; and although the members have now disbanded, they have definitely established themselves in the history of chamber music as a quartet whose technical efficiency, wonderful unanimity of style, and absolute balance of tone must for ever stand as an example of the art of string-quartet-playing, in its highest and most perfect form. The personnel of the quartet consisted of the following artists : Adolfo Beth, 1st violin ; Alfred Pochon, 2nd violin ; Ugo Ara, viola ; Iwan D' Archambeau, 'cellist. During the course of the career of the quartet the viola player was changed three times, Louis Bailly taking the place of viola player from 1917 to 1924, Felicien D'Archambeau (brother of the 'cellist) from 1924 to 1925, and Nicolas Moldavan from 1925 to 1929, Adolfo Betti, Alfred Pochon and Iwan D'Archambeau remaining as members from the inauguration of the quartet in 1903 until it disbanded in 1929.
Not the least interesting part of the career of the Flonzaley is connected with its inauguration. The idea of forming a quartet originated with the late Mr. Edward J. de Coppet, who founded a quartet which was to be the forerunner of the great Flonzaley. This earlier quartet used to play at the home of Mr. de Coppet for his family and friends, all of whom took a very great interest in chamber music.
Towards the middle of 1902 Mr. de Coppet wrote to a friend of his, the Swiss violinist Alfred Pochon, inviting him to come to the United States to study the musical conditions prevailing in that country at that time. Pochon at once complied with his friend's request and went to New York. Mr. de Coppet was a wealthy and enthusiastic amateur musician, and it had long been his wish to found an " ideal " quartet. With the assistance of Pochon, who undertook all the arrangements, a plan for a permanent string quartet, whose members would devote themselves exclusively to quartet playing, was finally decided upon. Mr. de Coppet requested Alfred Pochon to be one of the two violinists of equal standing who would take the parts of first and second violin alternately, once the quartet was formed, and to this Pochon agreed. The task of finding the other three young artists fell upon Pochon, who set to work with characteristic zeal.
It is impossible to give a detailed account of his many inquiries, and his long correspondence with numerous great teachers all over the world, before the personnel of the Flonzaley Quartet was finally made up. Joachim was very anxious for his pupil Klinger to join the quartet, and many other famous musicians of that time, including the great 'cellist Casals, Jacques Thibaud, and his brother the 'cellist, and the violinist Enesco contemplated becoming members of the quartet. The choice fell finally upon Adolfo Betti and Ugo Ara, both of whom had been fellow students with Pochon at the Brussels Conservatoire, where all three had studied under Cesar Thomson.
Another fellow student of Pochon, Victor Vreuls, a composer and teacher at the Schol a Cantorum in Paris, suggested Iwan D' Archambeau as a possible 'cellist, and his services were at once secured. With the exception of the viola player, Ugo Ara, who resigned owing to ill-health contracted during war service, the personnel of the quartet remained the same from its inauguration in 1903 until it disbanded in 1929...
The Flonzaley were a unique quartet in the respect that the members, at the time of the inauguration of the quartet, mutually agreed not to teach, play in orchestras, or do any quartet work outside their own organisation. They also decided to devote their exclusive attention to the cultivation of chamber music alone. The quartet has given many first performances of the music of modern composers, and in no instance has it shown any tendency to preference for national music—chamber music, whatever the composer's nationality, being its only interest. Works by Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, Schumann and Schubert were included in its programmes in the earlier days of its performances. During the later seasons, however, the quartet has given first performances of modern works, many of which have been written for, and dedicated to, the Flonzaley Quartet...
During the years of its public career the quartet has performed the greatest chamber music masterpieces, with a sincerity of purpose and musical feeling that has spread appreciation of chamber music all over the world. Declared by many to be the leading organization of its kind, it is certain that there are few quartets to-day who can claim to have reached a standard of playing equal to that for which the Flonzaley is so justly famous.
The quartet is composed of a group of players, each of whom is master of his instrument and a distinguished solo artist, in addition to possessing the qualities of sympathy, concentration, and mutual understanding so necessary in quartet work. Constant association has brought about wonderful unanimity of feeling and style between the performers, and the breadth of outlook manifested by each individual player, the perfect balance of tone, and fine blending of instruments have brought their organization to the highest point of technical and musical efficiency...
The final concert was given in New York on May 7th (1929) with the National Broadcasting Association, when the quartet played to over a million and a half listeners. Following the performance, Mr. Walter Damrosch, Dean of the American musicians, bade farewell to the quartet in the name of their colleagues throughout the States ; and the Hon. Nicholas Longworth, Speaker of the House of Representatives, closed the programme by expressing the nation's thanks to the organization for the services rendered to the cause of music for a quarter of a century...
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