Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Smetana by the Primrose Quartet

The Primrose Quartet
Today I present a great string quartet recording by an ensemble which was, alas, too short-lived: the Primrose Quartet, consisting of Oscar Shumsky and Josef Gingold, violins; William Primrose, viola, and Harvey Shapiro, cello.  All four were members of the NBC Symphony under Toscanini when the group was formed, at the invitation of NBC, in 1938, and America's entry into the Second World War caused the disbandment of the Quartet when Shumsky entered the U.S. Navy.  They left only three issued recordings: Haydn's "Seven Last Words" (the work's first recording in its string quartet version), Schumann's Piano Quintet with Jesús Maria Sanromá, and this one:

Smetana: Quartet No. 1 in E minor ("From My Life")
Primrose Quartet (Shumsky-Gingold-Primrose-Shapiro)
Recorded February 6 and 15, 1940
Victor Musical Masterpiece Set DM-675, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 65.83 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 37.15 MB)

This was the first-issued of the Primrose Quartet sets, and how fitting that it should have been of this work, with its opening theme on the viola, gloriously played by the ensemble's namesake!

The Primrose Quartet also recorded Brahms' Third Quartet and Mozart's K. 387, but these were not approved for issue.  The three issued recordings, plus the Brahms, were reissued by Biddulph about twenty years ago, but this is long out-of-print, and commands hefty prices when it does appear.

My friend and fellow record-collector, David Hoehl, who provided me with this Smetana set and with the Bloch Suite for Viola with Primrose that I uploaded earlier, calls my attention to this bit about Fritz Kitzinger, the accompanist on the Bloch Suite, as found in the fifth edition of Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians (1958):

"Kitzinger, Fritz, pianist and conductor; b. Munich, Jan. 27, 1904; d. New York, May 23, 1947.  He studied at the Munich Cons. and the Univ. of Munich, graduating in 1924; conductor of the Dortmund Opera 1925-27), Berlin State Opera (1927-30), and Chemnitz Opera (1930); toured China and Japan as a symphonic conductor.  In 1934 he came to the U.S. and subsequently settled in N.Y."


  1. THANK YOU for this marvelous treat! I had not been aware of its existence. I am getting it now, and bet that it sounds really good (tho' I hope they did not use Studio 8H!)

    One thing, re: Smetana SQ1, that I've never been able to put my hands on, and was very curious about, is the world premiere of the Szell transcription, which he conducted with the NBC perhaps a year after this issue by the Primrose Q was waxed. Have you heard it? Of course, I do have the Columbia version.

    Steve - retired recording engineer

    1. hello j'aimerais écouter la version Szell thanks

    2. i am jameskulig@orange.fr regards

  2. Bryan, thank you for this wonderful performance. I had never heard the Primrose Quartet before; that's quite an all-star line-up! As usual, your transfer is excellent. I very much appreciate the treasures you have been making available.

  3. What incredible instrumentalists make up this quartet. I know them except for Gingold. Harvey Shapiro and Earl Wild do a great Rach Sonata. Thank you for this rare Smetana. Cheers, Puck.