Magazine article Gramophone

The LaSalle Quartet: Conversations with Walter Levin

Magazine article Gramophone

The LaSalle Quartet: Conversations with Walter Levin

Article excerpt

The LaSalle Quartet: Conversations with Walter Levin

By Robert Spruytenburg

Boydell and Brewer, HB, 352pp, 25 [pounds sterling]

ISBN 978-1-84383-835-7

Champions of the rare, the new and of cutting-edge repertoire from the last century, but not at the expense of the classics, the LaSalle Quartet was formed and led for 40 years by Walter Levin.

The book's front cover pictures four young men (the original lineup, all students at the Juilliard School in New York) in a small room, bows and instruments at the ready, eager to intimately rehearse and develop a unified interpretation. The interviews have taken place post the ensemble's demise (in 1987) and cover a five-year period. The questions to Levin are posed by an enthusiast knowledgeable about these musicians and the music they played, and also about some off-air recordings that are a supplement to the group's official discography (which is one of the book's appendices).

Levin's responses are detailed and often lengthy, sometimes suggesting that he is less than a democrat in emphasising that it was he who founded the LaSalle Quartet and played the repertoire he wanted to, the implication being that over the LaSalle Quartet's 40 years of existence there was little leeway for his three colleagues to have an equal say. That said, over these decades, Levin was the only constant for the group: otherwise it was three second violinists, two viola players and five cellists; the final members, aside from Levin, being (from second violinist to cellist) Henry Meyer, Peter Kamnitzer and Lee Fiser, very familiar names to record collectors, mostly on the Deutsche Grammophon label.

New and commissioned works are extensively covered and offer fascinating insight into the trials and tribulations of comprehending a new score, and discussions with the composers (Ligeti seems to have been difficult, Lutoslawski quite the reverse, if assured about how his single String Quartet should be approached). The LaSalle musicians played the latter's work 98 times, including the premiere. There are sections within the book devoted to Boulez, Gielen, Kagel and Nono, and to composers who may be less familiar, such as William DeFotis and Laszlo Kalmar. …

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