Collected from the local post office agency first thing on Saturday morning: a 5-CD set of the Amadeus Quartet playing the complete Brahms String Quartets, Quintets and Sextets, and a 7-CD set of the Amadeus playing the complete cycle of sixteen Beethoven String Quartets plus the Grosse Fugue, both issued as part of the Deutsche Grammaphon Collectors Edition series.
I already had some of these recordings on vinyl, but not many, as I already had on vinyl the complete cycle of Beethoven Quartets, the wonderful recordings made by the Hungarian Quartet, and the Leon Fleischer-Juillard Quartet recording of the Brahms Piano Quintet. So I decided to see what the Amadeus had to say for themselves on this central chamber repertoire.
Having no interest whatsoever in the footy grand final I have managed to listen to all twelve CDs over the course of the weekend, and they are everything that one would expect and hope – wonderful, seamless ensemble playing of the kind that emerges only when people have been playing together for a lifetime and become completely attuned to one another so that the quartet seems to become a single musical organism rather than four individuals playing.
The Amadeus Quartet was born out of the hardships of Jewish displacement arising from the Anschluss and internment during the Second World War. The violinists Norbert Brainin, Siegmund Nissel and Peter Schidlof were driven out of Vienna by the 1938 Anschluss. On the outbreak of war all three of them were interned as enemy aliens. Brainin met Schidlof in an internment camp on the Isle of Man. Brainin was released after a few months, but Schidloff remained in the camp, where he subsequently met Nissel. Eventually Schidlof and Nissel were released, and the three of them studied under Max Rostal, who taught them free of charge.
Through Rostal they met cellist Martin Lovett, and in 1947 they formed the Brainin Quartet, with Schidlof playing the viola. They renamed themselves the Amadeus Quartet in 1948, and that year gave their first concert as the Amadeus Quartet at the Wigmore Hall, the performance being underwritten by Imogen Holst. The quartet disbanded in 1987 upon the death of Peter Schidlof. By this time they had made some 200 recordings.
For the Brahms Quintets and Sextets they have their regular collaborators Cecil Aronowitz on the second viola (Brahms wrote his quintets for a second viola rather than a second cello, which gives them their distinctive, more nasal sound) and William Pleeth on the second cello. Christoph Eschenbach is the pianist in the Quintet in F minor op. 34, and appears with Karl Leister (clarinet) and Georg Donderer (cello) in the Trio for Piano, Clarinet and Violoncello in A minor Op. 114.
Karl Leister joins the Amadeus Quartet for the Quintet for Clarinet and String Quartet on B minor, op. 115.
Historical background comes from Wikipedia here.