London String Quartet
Horace Britt, cello recorded in 1928
Transfers supplied by Jack Kamerman from US pressings
XR remastering by Andrew Rose at Pristine Audio, June-October 2010
Cover artwork based on a photograph of London String Quartet, c.1931
(NB. At this stage Warner had been replaced in the quartet by William Primrose)
One of the great British quartets of the early-mid 20th century
Excellent interpretation in a remarkably good 1928 recording
SCHUBERT String Quintet in C major, D.956 [notes\score]
London String Quartet: John Pennington, violin Thomas W. Petre, violin Harry Waldo Warner, viola Charles Warwick Evans, cello
with Horace Britt, cello
Recorded 18-19 April, 1928
Issued as UK Columbia 9485-9490, US Columbia set M95
Notes on the recordings:
A few months ago I received a call from one of Pristine Classical's regular and long-standing customers, Prof. Jack Kamerman. Amongst other things he had to discuss, he was especially keen to recommend to me the recording made by the London String Quartet of Schubert's C minor Quintet for the Schubert centenary of 1928. In Prof. Kamerman's view this was one of the truly great performances of this work - one that had been remarkably well recorded for it time, and one which appeared to have been completely overlooked and not since reissued.
All very interesting, I replied, but would you happen to have a copy? At this point these conversations usually come to something of a halt, or a vague promise to look out for one, or the admission that the caller's discs are either worn out, broken or scratched beyond use. But no, here we had not only a good set of discs, but a good transfer of a good set of discs - would I like him to post me a copy for evaluation?
When I received the CD I realised quickly that he had a very strong point. Despite a slightly rough start in terms of disc quality, the transfers were excellent and the playing marvellous, with the quartet sounding both of and ahead of its time. A forgotten treasure indeed, and one which has responded exceptionally well to XR remastering. The playing is for the most part crisp, precise and highly accomplished, whilst the recording is generally clean with an unusually well-extended treble response marred only occasionally by a slight peak distortion that comes (when it comes) as quite a surprise - and reminds you that this is a recording from the 1920s and not significantly later.
This is not the first recording to me made of Schubert's Quintet - that honour went to the Cobbett Quartet in an acoustic recording for the NGS some three years earlier - but the London String Quartet's take is miles ahead of its predecessor in almost every way, and shows what one of the top chamber ensembles of the day was really capable of. A recording to treasure.
In 1908 Warwick-Evans was leader of the Queen's Hall violoncellos and Waldo Warner was first viola in the New Symphony Orchestra. Warwick-Evans formed the idea of a string quartet worked up to the standard of a solo virtuoso, and approached Waldo Warner. He was enthusiastic, and then Petre was found and finally Albert Sammons, the new Concertmaster of Thomas Beecham's orchestra, to lead the quartet.
They rehearsed four times a week for nearly two years before giving their first concert. There was to be no 'boss': if anyone disagreed with tempo or phrasing he spoke out, the point was discussed, and the decision made if necessary by voting. The first concert was on January 26, 1910, at Bechstein (Wigmore) Hall, as the 'New' Quartet, playing Dohnanyi in D flat, Tchaikovsky in D, and a Fantasy Quartet (No. i) of Waldo Warner's. Reviews were excellent: the second concert was in June 1910, of Debussy in G minor, Beethoven Op. 59 no. 1, and a Fantasy of Balfour Gardiner's. Warwick-Evans suggested the name 'London String Quartet' and in 1911 it was adopted.
At the outbreak of war, 1914, Warwick-Evans and Waldo Warner could not serve for health reasons. Petre served in France and his place was taken successively by Wynn Reeves, Herbert Kinsey, and Edwin Virgo. Albert Sammons, meanwhile, was building a solo career and had less time for essential rehearsals. In May 1915 the quartet began to give chamber music 'Pops', much liked in wartime London. By May 1917 they had given 50, and at about that time Sammons left and was replaced (July 1917) by James Levey, a pupil of Ferdinand Hill's. The last of these concerts, the 117th, was on July 14, 1919.
In 1920 the suggestion was made that they should perform a one-week cycle of the complete Beethoven quartets, and this was done first in Edinburgh, then in London, then Stockholm, Christiania, and variously in America, in all ten cycles including three in London. In September 1920 they were introduced to America by Mrs Elizabeth Coolidge at Pittsburgh, playing Frank Bridge's E minor (Bologna) Quartet, Beethoven in E minor, and Waldo Warner's Folk-song Fantasy.
In addition to a great number of concerts in London and England they undertook many international tours, notably to America, France, Portugal, Spain (twice), Scandinavia (thrice), Germany and Canada. From November 1922 to April 1924 they conducted a world-tour.
'In the Flonzaley's later years,... they seemed to have become a committee of experts matching exquisite swatches of tonal texture rather than performers of music. For young ears, the rise of the London String Quartet (with the incomparable James Levey as leader, and the enduring partnership of Thomas Petre, H. Waldo Warner and C. Warwick Evans participating) dimmed the Flonzaley star even as it was waning. A more vibrant enthusiasm, a stronger sense of tonal colours, a refinement that was not raffiné, gave them pre-eminence as long as this personnel endured. This, in truth, was not long, and though Levey's successor was John Pennington of the honeyed tone, and William Primrose first showed his prowess as a violist in Waldo Warner's place, it was not the same thing.'
Harry Waldo Warner won distinction as a composer of chamber music, including six published string quartets and a trio. The first two quartets were one-movement works described as Phantasies for the purposes of the Cobbett Prize, which was won by both. The third in C minor is in four movements, though the slow movement and scherzo are linked: the fourth is a Phantasy based on an English folk-song, with many variations. The fifth is a Suite called 'The Pixy Ring', each movement being concerned with fairy lore, and the sixth is a Suite of four movements described as being in the 'Olden Style'.
The group made prolific early recordings in the days of the pre-electric recording horn, when it was difficult to obtain clear sound from string chamber groups. The 1917 premiere recording (made in this way) of the Vaughan Williams song-cycle On Wenlock Edge, with Gervase Elwes (tenor) and Frederick B. Kiddle (piano) is deservedly famous, and has James Levey as first violin (Columbia Records, Purple label, 7363-7365). This remained in the catalogue until at least 1933.
Acoustic recordings also include the following works:
Schubert: Quartet No. 13 (Columbia 1921 unissued): Trout Quintet (Columbia 1924) (coupled with a Glazounov movement): Quartet in D minor 'Tod und das Mädchen'. (Col Light Blue, 78rpm, L1751-1754). (20 November & 24 December 1925).
Schumann: Quartet No. 1 (Columbia 1917): Piano Quintet (Vocalion 1921).
Smetana: Quartet No. 1 (Vocalion 1923).
Warner: Quartet in C (Vocalion 1923).
In 1928 the Columbia Graphophone Company sponsored and organized a Schubert Centenary event, which included a Composer's Contest and two other phases of awards, and was completed with an issue of over seventy records of Schubert's music, including chamber recordings by various groups. The London String Quartet was invited to record the following Schubert items (these electrical-microphone recordings feature John Pennington at the first violin desk):
Schubert: Quartett-satz in C minor (Col Light Blue, 78rpm, L1679R). (4 November 1927) [This was an electrical recording made to replace L1679 recorded 18 December 1924].
Schubert: Quintet in A major 'The Trout', with Ethel Hobday (piano) and Robert Cherwin (double-bass). (Col Light Blue, 78rpm, L 2098-2102). (9-10 January 1928).
Schubert: Quintet in C major op 163 with Horace Britt (cello). (Col Dark Blue, 78rpm, 9485-9490). (18-19 April 1928).
These items were also available:
Franck: Quartet in D major (Columbia Light Blue, 78rpm, L2304-2309). (26-27 October 1928).
Beethoven: Quartet in A minor op 132 (Columbia 78rpm LX 332-336). (2-3 April 1934).