Stimulated by knowing that the celebrated Hollywood String Quartet’s complete recordings (though not the one with Frank Sinatra) have just been issued as a box in Japan I returned to Testament’s 1990s’ CD coverage of these tapings, and opted for SBT 1031, which acted in 1993 as my discovery of HSQ’s superb collective musicianship when Stewart Brown, Testament founder, released a choice coupling of Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht (in its chamber original, later for string orchestra) and Schubert’s String Quintet. I was totally sold and now have all, certainly most, of Testament’s HSQ issues.
HSQ was formed in 1939 but its activities were soon on-hold due to World War II and the men enlisting, so from 1947 to 1961 the group made numerous much-praised releases. From 1950 (Schoenberg) and 1951 (Schubert) these versatile musicians, each with a Hollywood film-studio background – Felix Slatkin, Paul Shure, Paul Robyn & Eleanor Aller – are joined by viola-player Alvin Dinkin (he would later replace Robyn) and Kurt Reher (who also appears as Schubert’s second cellist) in touchstone accounts of these two works – suspense-filled in Schoenberg’s sextet, selfless yet full of personality in both pieces, intimate yet outgoing, dynamic in every sense, musically perceptive and satisfying, drawing the listener in to make the seventy years that have elapsed since these compelling renditions were set down seem like only yesterday.
As much as the Japanese set is tempting – there writes a collector! – I shall rest content with Testament’s HSQ reporting. After all, SBT 1031 enjoys Paul Baily’s expert transfers, Tully Potter’s illuminating booklet note, as well as Schoenberg’s own words on Transfigured Night, which graced Capitol’s first issue, cover illustrated, and Richard Dehmel’s in-German poem (with an English translation by Lionel Salter) that inspired the music.