Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The New Music Quartet

The New Music Quartet, founded in 1948 by violinists Broadus Erle and Matthew Raimondi, violist Walter Trampler, and cellist Claus Adam (later of the Juilliard Quartet), was much admired during its brief history - I think it may have disbanded in 1956 when Erle moved to Japan for four years.  (He later came back to teach at Yale and to head the Yale Quartet, where Trampler joined him.)  The New Music Quartet made a handful of recordings for Bartók Records (including the première recording of the Third Quartet by that label's namesake), then moved to Columbia where they produced eight or nine albums, among them the first recording of Hugo Wolf's Quartet in D minor.  Their last-issued recording, which occupied one side of an LP, was of this première recording of Roger Sessions' fine Second String Quartet:

Sessions: String Quartet No. 2 (1951)
The New Music Quartet (Erle-Raimondi-Trampler-Soyer)
Recorded May 12, 1955
Side 1 of Columbia ML-5105, one LP record
Link (FLAC files, 82.23 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 56.17 MB)

By the time of this recording, David Soyer, later to be one of the founding members of the Guarneri Quartet, had replaced Adam as cellist.

The Sessions quartet strikes me as a modern answer to Beethoven's Op. 131, with its opening slow fugue, its long central variation movement, and its one-in-a-bar scherzo following the variations.  Instead of Beethoven's galloping finale, however, we get a particularly haunting slow movement.  The work has only been recorded three times to my knowledge - in the early 70s by the Kohon Quartet for Vox, and in 1987 by the Juilliard Quartet for CRI.  This pioneering version has, as far as I'm aware, never been reissued.

Its disc mate seems to me a mite incongruous - an early concerto for piano and winds by Colin McPhee (1900-1964), best known for his interest in Balinese folk music.  This work, less than half the length of the Sessions quartet, would seem to owe a lot to Stravinsky, and it does bear some surface similarities to the latter's own piano concerto, especially in the last two movements.  But the opening of the first movement is utterly dissimilar - instead of Stravinsky's pompous neo-Baroque introduction there is a quiet, Impressionistic texture that seems to start in medias res:

McPhee: Concerto for Piano and Wind Octet (1928)
Grant Johannesen with wind octet conducted by Carlos Surinach
Recorded February 22, 1955
Side 2 of Columbia ML-5105, one LP record
Link (FLAC files, 39.33 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 28.43 MB)


  1. Fascinating. Many thanks, Bryan.

  2. Hi Bryan ! and many thanks for this post. Contrary to Session (always an interesting composer) finally not so many recordings of Mc Phee's music. Listening to it now, wonderful !!!

  3. I am so used to the Balinese McPhee that I forget he once lived in the long shadow of the neo-classical Stravinsky. The Piano Concerto is a wonderful work with an especially notable slow movement. But a genius like McPhee had to find his own ground to stand on. The Sessions, on the other hand, is mature and non-derivative. The 12-minute opening contrapuntal lento is intensely mournful until it explodes in temporary release at around the 8-minute mark. To follow this slow movement with another even darker one ("tranquillo" hardly seems apt, although there is a serenity at the end) suggests deeply personal, possibly programmatic, reasons for composing this very inward, dramatic work. Except for the scherzo, this music stays very pensive. By the way, the playing strikes me as consummate. Sessions is in very sympathetic hands. Thank you for this wonderful recording. Please bring more of Columbia's many releases of contemporary American music in the 1950s out of mothballs. I would especially love to hear Eugene Ormandy's many definitive recordings of Virgil Thomson. And any and all Henry Cowell, especially his early enfant terrible stuff, would be appreciated.

  4. Thank you for sharing this great recording. I have attempted several times to download it, but it appears to be no longer available. Hope you can fix this. Thank you.

  5. It works now. Thank you. Great recording by the sadly short-lived New Music Quartet. Too bad corporate music did not allow the New Music Quartet to record a complete Beethoven cycle.