Monday, July 27, 2015

Mendelssohn: Quartet No. 1 (Budapest Quartet)

I've lately managed to acquire a few sets by the Budapest String Quartet in their glory days - when the group still boated one Hungarian in their lineup (István Ipolyi, viola) but was otherwise transitioning to the all-Russian ensemble that defined them for later generations. These recordings date from 1933-35, and in most cases my copies are really nice ones on Victor "scroll" labels as depicted above. One of the rarest is of this Mendelssohn quartet, which seems to have lasted only a couple of years in the Victor catalogue:

Mendelssohn: Quartet No. 1 in E-Flat Major, Op. 12
The Budapest String Quartet (Roisman-Schneider-Ipolyi-Schneider)
Recorded April 29, 1935
Victor Musical Masterpiece set M-307, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 69.62 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 42.83 MB)

This is the quartet that has the famous "Canzonetta" - which was often recorded as a separate piece in those days, but this appears to be the only recording of the complete quartet made during the 78 era.


  1. Alternate links -



  2. Gossip: The Columbia/Odyssey lp set in which this once appeared was transferred from Peter Munves' private collection - at one point he worked for Columbia. From that you can "understand" what John Wiser was hinting about in his review of the first Odyssey set which appeared at . B.H. Haggin also didn't think very much of the transfers which appeared in the two Odyssey lp sets of early Budapest Quartet EMI records. The Toshiba set, which John Wiser liked, included the otherwise unreissued Tchaikovsky's Andante Cantabile as well as other things not in that first Odyssey set. It took me many, many years until I found the Toshiba set on ebay. Well, your transfer of the Mendelssohn (I listened to just the Canzonetta) is simply wonderful! It's that dangerous type of music which threatens to become an "earworm" - you start listening to every performance by everybody. Of all that I've heard - quite a few - this 1935 performance remains my favorite: played with sentiment, but not sentimental. There's a lovely phrase by the choreographer Mark Morris with regard to another musical idea which I think is relevant here: "It's beautiful enough. You don't have to beautify it."
    With my best regards from over here and, of course, MORE BUDAPEST QUARTET (shouting a bit),
    David Mendes

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, David, and thanks for the kind words. The irony is, I bought this set from Mr. Munves - he's been selling off his very extensive 78 collection on Ebay - and it's very possible that the records I used were also used in the Odyssey set! Then again, maybe not; he seems to have multiple copies of a lot of Victor and Columbia sets. Don't think he was still at Columbia when the Odyssey set came out. According to Gary Marmorstein, he hit up Clive Davis for a vice presidency at Columbia after their "Composers' Greatest Hits" albums, which was his idea, hit the charts, was turned down, and left for RCA. But that wouldn't have stopped him from loaning his records for such a worthy project, I'm sure. Where did you find Haggin's review? I've always enjoyed reading Haggin, even when I disagree with him (which is fairly often) - he never pulled punches!

    2. Haggin's reviews of the two Odyssey sets appeared in the Yale Review (Issues 69 #3 of March 1980 and 71 #2 of January 1982). I typed out the reviews - and then with a flick of finger - somehow deleted them! Haggin correctly remembered the "amplitude and luminosity that one didn't hear in the sound from the LPs." Who (God or Columbia) knows what happened between the 78s and the Odyssey LPs? As Wiser mentioned in his review listed above, the Toshiba set is much better.
      In any event, I would recommend - after buying any Haggin books you might want via the Bookfinder site - that you check a local library which might have the run of the Yale Review between the Spring of 1957 (Volume 46 #3 and) December 1986 (Volume 76 #1). Many of Haggin's earlier reviews of records, including 78s, are (or were) available from the searchable archive of The Nation magazine. Once you enter there, you never leave.
      Haggin had a remarkable ear, an astounding memory and a wonderful sense of humor which he - alas - did not display very often in his writing.
      With my best regards from over here,
      David Mendes

  3. This is WONDERFUL thank you! What lyrical but energetic playing. And great transfer.

  4. Yes, I must add my thanks too! Lovely performance, recording and transfer.

    You're right, this does seem to be the only complete 78 rpm set - though in late 1922, (British) Vocalion issued one of its characteristically abridged versions on 4 sides, recorded by the London SQ, on D 02062-63. You can listen to a transfer on the British Library's site Sounds, though not outside the EU (sorry!).

    By then, Mendelssohn was becoming deeply unfashionable, and the only other quartet to be recorded complete was Op.44 No.1, by the Stradivarius Quartet.

    Best wishes and thanks again, Nick

  5. Bryan - Many thanks for this excellent transfer which, as your other correspondent has commented, is so much superior to the disappointing Odyssey issue.
    Now, if someone could just come up trumps with that elusive Andante Cantabile recording which appears on the Toshiba reissue (seemingly just as elusive) it would make a lot of Budapest Quartet fans very happy.

    Eddie S.
    Suffolk U.K.

  6. The Odyssey box thanks Peter Munves for making the records available and says the transfers were made by Ward Marston.

  7. Superb transfer, thanks so much Bryan!

  8. Superb transfer, thanks so much Bryan!

  9. Finally got round to this the other night. Just outstanding, Bryan. This is truly one of their great recordings, and you've really brought it back to life. I've got that Odyssey box too, which I've long treasured, but it's splendid to have your transfer.

  10. Thank you very much. I love the BSQ :-)

  11. The Odyssey sets were also my introduction to the Budapest Quartet, and bed transfers or not, always seemed to stand above nearly all other performances of the same pieces I heard later. To know that the Toshiba set is even better, and to hear the wonderful transfers on this blog, leave me in 78 rpm (or in Japanese "SP", for short play) heaven. Thank you very much!