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Penguin Guide, January 2009

These legendary records come from the days of shellac. Benny Goodman’s set comes from 1938 (these were the days when popular musicians were musically educated) and the Szell set of the Piano Quartets was recorded in Holly wood in 1946. He was an elegant pianist although these performances did not enjoy wide currently in Britain or Europe. Curzon and the Amadeus came along on Decca a few years later and dominated the catalogue for some time afterwards. Readers can at last relish these classical and stylish performances in what is the best sound they have yet enjoyed.

Gary Lemco
Audiophile Audition, April 2007

Recorded in Hollywood, California 18-20 August 1946, the two Mozart piano quartets with George Szell and members of the Budapest String Quartet were Szell's (1897-1970) first American records, cut for CBS just prior to his assumption of the directorship of the Cleveland Orchestra following Artur Rodzinski. A piano pupil of Richard Robert in Berlin, Szell developed an astonishingly brilliant piano facility, one that caused Gina Bachauer--in an interview we had in Syracuse--to recall his work at a second keyboard when they rehearsed a piano concerto, "like sitting next to a musical buzz saw."

Sony issued the two Mozart piano quartets several years ago, coupled with Szell's collaboration with violinist Rafael Druian on two Mozart sonatas. For this Naxos incarnation, Mark Obert-Thorn has taken 33rpm lacquer discs as his source. The results are generally quiet, permitting Szell's beguilingly light and deft keyboard work--listen to those Mannheim rockets in K. 478-- and Roisman's nasal, long-lined violin to complement each other, while basking in the harmonies from Boris Kroyt and Mischa Schneider. Kroyt's viola, in fact, has a luminous timbre that benefits from Mozart's transparent part-writing.

The RCA collaboration with Benny Goodman and the Budapest Quartet (25 April 1938) will likely attract collectors, who will want Goodman's performance, superior to his prior ensemble work with the Pro Arte Quartet. The tempo of the first movement accelerates quickly, and the steady pulse the group maintains through some tricky metrics testifies to the discipline imposed on all participants. Goodman plays in a frothy, extroverted style - forthright, favoring a long line and audacious ornaments. The Larghetto is a rich experience, mellow and secure, with Goodman's low, chalumeau register in full glory. Mischa Schneider's second violin stands out along with Goodman and Roisman for the perky march that Mozart calls a Menuetto. Smooth segues in the theme and variations of the last movement, and that includes the technical splices of the side-breaks. It seems Reginald Kell served as Goodman's mentor for his classical incursions, and the security of Goodman's pacing is likely the beneficiary. A fine addition to the historic chamber music legacy on CD, this, and I urge Mark Obert-Thorn to devote equal care to restoring the work of oboist Mitch Miller with the same technical and musical acumen.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, January 2007

By the time these recordings were made in 1938 and 1946 the legendary Budapest String Quartet had lost all of its original Hungarian musicians and was now totally made up of Russians working in America. That it was still an outstanding group is not in doubt, but they had been brought up in the Austro-German style, and though quite different to their predecessors, it was admirable training for Mozart. Probably for commercial considerations they were joined by the great jazz clarinettist, Benny Goodman, and it makes amusing reading in today's world of crossover artists that the recording label printed a long explanation why they had taken this bold step. In the event it was a gorgeous mismatch, Goodman's bright and breezy approach at odds with the very studied playing of the Budapest. So a novelty it remains and was very different to the combination with George Szell, an eminent conductor who had started out life as a pianist and composer. Whereas Goodman does his own thing, Szell marries perfectly with the string trio, at all times avoiding the trap of creating a chamber piano concerto. By comparison with today's performances these were sober accounts that were perfectly paced and shaped with only a hint of the happiness Mozart had embedded in his scores. Much of that atmosphere is accentuated by the dry recorded sound, its analytical quality showing the exactitude of the Budapest's intonation and ensemble.

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