To have a great chamber ensemble playing six great works is not to be sneezed at. So I have to explain why I would rather be listening to a reissue of a different set of Haydn’s op.76. By one of those coincidences that afflict the industry, when the Budapest Quartet sat down at the Library of Congress to make these recordings in 1954, they had just been trumped by their former second violinist Alexander Schneider (who would soon rejoin them).
The Schneider Quartet (Haydn Society) had the legendary Herman Busch on cello, more probing than the solid, comfortable Mischa Schneider (Alexander’s elder brother) for the Budapest. And Alexander Schneider’s leadership was both more characterful in fast movements and more profound in slow ones. His intonation, while not perfect, was superior to that of Joseph Roisman of the Budapest and his group was more openly recorded.
Well, freed of that powerful competition, the Budapest set is not half bad. The ‘Emperor’ goes particularly well and within each of the six works the tempos are well judged. I just cannot rid myself of the feeling that I am listening to a model Mozartian ensemble trying to come to terms with Haydn – I feel that about the Amadeus Quartet’s op.76, too (Deutsche Grammophon).
United Archives seems to have got hold of the original tapes and the mono sound is about as good as one could expect, given the notoriously boxy acoustic of the Coolidge Auditorium. Fans of the Budapest will want the set, which is nicely presented.