The reissue of four performances by the Stuyvesant String Quartet is welcome news for long-standing admirers and newcomers alike. Drawn from four different sources (producing an equally varied degree of “closeness” and balance), Brian C. Peters has lovingly remastered the music and captured much of the warmth that analog gives as a matter-of-course compared to digital’s less intimate result. Kudos also to annotators Jay and Laurie Shulman whose richly detailed notes and historical background add insight, perspective (how many more recordings would have been made if only commercial sessions weren’t so lucrative!) and understanding to the generous collection.
At the centre is the first-ever pairing of Debussy and Ravel’s sole entries into the genre. The former’s opening movement moves (particularly the inner voices) convincingly over the bar lines and is firmly rooted with Alan Shulman’s full-bodied cello. Perhaps a notch too “animé” for some, the miraculous late-inning lift is rendered perfectly. The latter’s “Amiable” is nicely layered and textured; the second-subject octaves a particular pleasure; the truly marvelous foreshadowing of “Summertime” sets the tone for a coda that exudes peace and relaxation. The “Scherzi” feature spot-on tempi, discreet portamenti and a combined treatise on the effective use of pizzicato. One wishes to be in the room with the deeply personal statements of Debussy’s haunting “Andantino” (even if the climax cries out for a pinch more breadth); Ravel’s introspective “Très lent” is often more colourful, but his earlier-born colleague has more to say. Here, the sense of ensemble is impeccable and the “Mother Goose” adieu couldn’t have had a more subtle utterance. The finales are notable for rhythmic surety, spirited, energetic undulations and nearly pitch-perfect performances that are honest and “alive.”
The lesser-known bookends set and clear the table with both logic and ease. Malipiero’s rustic, Copland-laden Rispetti e Strambotti shows the quartet’s versatility (the childlike episode a marvel of human warmth), dynamic range (from full-cry Eastern hues to stratospheric pedals and an amazingly reflective chorale) and commitment. Miles away is Shulman’s “Rendezvous”—the perfect bonbon after such an enjoyable meal, featuring the frantically excited contribution of Benny Goodman’s mild reed over a bed of string tone that can’t be beat. JWR