The Vegh Quartet Its Early Prime: A Treasure-Trove of Vintage Chamber Music Recordings from a String Guartet at Its Youthful Best

By Cowan, Rob | Gramophone, September 15, 2016 | Go to article overview

The Vegh Quartet Its Early Prime: A Treasure-Trove of Vintage Chamber Music Recordings from a String Guartet at Its Youthful Best


Cowan, Rob, Gramophone


Having granted us the opportunity to hear vintage recordings by the Viennese clarinettist Leopold Vlach (see last month's Replay) and with a set devoted to the significant Barylli Quartet waiting in the wings, the Scribendum label is certainly doing us chamber music lovers proud. Its 14-CD set The Art of Vegh Quartet (the ensemble founded in 1940, disbanded in 1980) is another case in point even though the majority of the recordings included, which date from the early 1950s, have already been released on other labels. As I pointed out in a previous Replay it was interesting to remind myself just how many distinguished vintage Beethoven string quartet cycles were recorded in France, not least both Hungarian Quartet sets (EMI/Warner) and the 1952 Haydn Society recordings by the Veghs (also out on Music & Arts) which are featured here. Listening through to the whole cycle found me admiring the weighty deliberation of the Op 18 series, the strength and occasional gruff humour of the 'middle' quartets (Op 59 No 1 is among the finest versions on disc), the pointed aggression of the Harp's scherzo where the signal 'four-note' motif is stressed for all its worth, and the cerebral mastery of the late quartets. The Grosse Fuge--not programmed as the finale of Op 130, incidentally--is especially impressive in its bold, gritty delivery while Op 127 combines warmth and, in the scherzo, full-on humour. Maybe Op 131 lacks the breathtaking intensity that the Busch brought to it (especially in the 1930s on EMI/Warner) but the Veghs' pondered readings are well worth revisiting. And while the Quartet's later (stereo) Astree set provides a more loose-limbed, 'open'-sounding option, this early set consistendy holds one's attention.

The six Bartok quartets (also out on Music & Arts) were long considered benchmarks until the Veghs remade them in stereo (again for Astree), by which time the Quartet's intonation was occasionally tending towards waywardness. But the musical payoff of a more spontaneous-sounding manner more than compensated. The best of the early set can be heard in the Third and Sixth Quartets, the latter bringing late Bartok into line with late Beethoven, the emotive first movement filled with pathos, its closing moments sublimely beautiful, and the middle two alternating a chilling sense of desolation with a touch of mock-vaudeville. …

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