Juilliard Quartet - The Early Columbia Recordings

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Juilliard Quartet - The Early Columbia Recordings
Juilliard String Quartet, with Leontyne Price (soprano) Samuel Barber (piano)

[ Sony Classical Masters / 16 CD Box Set ]

Release Date: Friday 18 June 2021

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Following up its widely acclaimed reissues of the Juilliard String Quartet's complete Epic and RCA Victor albums - originally issued between 1956 and 1960 - Sony Classical is excited to present a new 16-CD box set collecting the earliest albums of this august American ensemble. Made between 1949 and 1956 in Columbia's studio on Manhattan's 30th St., these landmark recordings are mostly new to CD.

When William Schuman founded a string quartet at New York's Juilliard School in 1946, he envisaged an ensemble not only to teach the elite New York conservatory's students but also, in its own public performances, to "play the standard repertoire with the sense of excitement and discovery of a new work and play new works with a reverence usually reserved for the classics." From its first appearances in New York, the Juilliard String Quartet was identified as a champion of modern music. Its first recordings for American Columbia, all included here, were dedicated to the works of Alban Berg and Béla Bartók (only recently deceased), as well as to Arnold Schoenberg (still very much alive), and to active American composers including Schuman himself.

When the recordings of new American quartets were first released in the mid-50s, High Fidelity's reviewers enthusiastically took up the cudgels for them, writing: "William Schuman's fourth string quartet is a big, serious, robust work, rather involved in form, rich in harmonic color, but especially rich in the variety and originality of its rhythms." "[Leon] Kirchner's quartet has the accent of urgency, power and overriding imaginativeness one associates with Béla Bartók's compositions for the same medium … The work has its own immensely individual profile. One feels it is music that had to be written, and one feels behind it the mind of a great composer." "The [Irving] Fine stands out for its fantasticality, its highly dissonant texture, and its individual formal devices; it employs the 12-tone system within a freely tonal framework."

But the heart of this release comprising 16 newly mastered CDs and also featuring works by Mozart, Ravel, Webern, Milhaud, Copland, Peter Mennin, Alexei Haieff and Andrew Imbrie, are three discs containing the premiere of Béla Bartók's six quartets on records, which were set down in 1949. They appeared on LP and 78s the following year, bringing the Juilliard String Quartet its first real celebrity. Recorded on 78-rpm shellacs rather than on tape, this path-breaking set thus consists of live, unedited performances. When reissued some years ago on CD - the only portion of the new Sony Classical box set ever to have appeared before on silver discs - it was rapturously praised in Fanfare magazine for "its joy of discovery, which remains completely fresh and vivid" even though numerous other traversals of the Bartók cycle had appeared in the meantime, including two stereo remakes by the Juilliard itself - in 1963 and, with digital technology, in 1981. Fanfare continued: "The ensemble deserves its renown in Bartók, whom it approached … with warmth and sometimes even Romanticism. Its impeccable execution set a new standard."

Another Juilliard milestone was the premiere of Arnold Schoenberg's four quartets on records, set down in 1951-52. Reviewing the original LP release, High Fidelity called these performances "vital, authoritative … The soprano, Uta Graf, does wonders with the extremely difficult songs of the second quartet, and her voice has been integrated with the strings to create the kind of unity Schoenberg must have dreamed of but could seldom have heard." At last, all these historic Juilliard String Quartet recordings are available to today's music lovers.


Milhaud: Cantate de l'enfant et de la mère (Cantata of the Child and the Mother)
Milhaud: The Household Muse - Darius Milhaud, piano

Bartók: String Quartet No. 1, Sz.40
Bartók: String Quartet No. 2, Sz. 67

Bartók: String Quartet No. 3, Sz. 85
Bartók: String Quartet No. 4, Sz. 91

Bartók: String Quartet No. 5, Sz. 102
Bartók: String Quartet No. 6, Sz. 114

Berg: Lyric Suite
Ravel: String Quartet in F Major, M. 35

Copland: Sextet for Clarinet, Piano and String Quartet
Kohs: Chamber Concerto for Viola and String Nonet - Ferenc Molnar, viola

Schuman: String Quartet No. 4 (1950)
Dahl: Concerto for Clarinet, Violin & Cello "Concerto a Tre" - Mitchell Lurie, clarinet; Eudice Shapiro, violin; Victor Gottlieb, cello

Schoenberg: String Quartet No. 1, Op. 7

Schoenberg: String Quartet No. 2 in F-Sharp Minor, Op. 10
Schoenberg: String Quartet No. 3, Op. 30

DISC 10:
Schoenberg: String Quartet No. 4, Op. 37
Webern: 5 Movements for String Quartets, Op. 5
Berg: Strinq Quartet, Op. 3

DISC 11:
Kirchner: String Quartet No. 1 - American Art String Quartet
Fine: String Quartet (1952)

DISC 12:
Mennin: String Quartet No. 2
Imbrie: String Quartet No. 1 in B-Flat Major

DISC 13:
Mozart: String Quartet No. 20 in D Major, K. 499 "Hoffmeister"
Mozart: String Quartet No. 21 in D Major, K. 575 "Prussian No. 1"

DISC 14:
Thomson: String Quartet No. 2
Schuman: Voyage (A Cycle of Five Pieces for Piano) - Beveridge Webster, piano

DISC 15:
Haieff: String Quartet No. 1
Barber: Hermit Songs, Op. 29 - Leontyne Price, soprano; Samuel Barber, piano

DISC 16:
Foss: String Quartet No. 1 - American Art String Quartet
Bergsma: Third String Quartet No. 1