William Masselos, Vol. IV;   Bernstein;  Guarneri Quartet   (St Laurent Studio YSL T-296)
Item# P1194
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William Masselos, Vol. IV;   Bernstein;  Guarneri Quartet   (St Laurent Studio YSL T-296)
P1194. WILLIAM MASSELOS, w.Leonard Bernstein Cond. NYPO: Piano Concerto (Ben Weber; Played by the dedicatee), Live Performance, 25 March, 1961, Carnegie Hall; WILLIAM MASSELOS, w.Guarneri Quartet: Piano Quartet in f, Op.34 (Brahms), Live Performance, 10 Dec., 1971, Hunter College Playhouse, New York. (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL T-296. [Never previously issued.] Transfers by Yves St Laurent.


"This disc is the fourth in a series devoted to pianist William Masselos (1920-1992) by Saint Laurent Studio, and as with most of these discs it demonstrates the equal comfort the pianist displayed in the most recent music and the German classics. He was comfortably trained in the German romantic tradition, but unlike so many of his contemporaries he embraced the new as well.

This performance of Ben Weber's Piano Concerto was the second in a subscription series of the New York Philharmonic that represented the world premiere of the work. Masselos later recorded it with Gerhard Samuels conducting, but the drive and commitment of Leonard Bernstein, and in particular his natural feel for the jazzy elements of the work, make this something special.

Ben Weber's Piano Concerto is a work of extreme range of expression. Composed for Masselos and the New York Philharmonic it was being written at the time of the death of Dimitri Mitropoulos in November, 1960, and the second movement is intended as a memorial tribute to that conductor. The following Allegro is jazzy and upbeat for the most part. Weber's music is largely in the twelve-tone system, but without the darkness and tight restrictions often associated with it. Weber consciously spoke and wrote about the need to be flexible with the system, and to fight against grimness while using it as the basis for composition. It is this wide range of colors and moods that must have appealed to Masselos, because he was a performer comfortable with dichotomy, with the quick turn from the memorial tribute to the dancing jazz-like elements that live with each other in this Concerto. There is in this performance a real sense of pianist and conductor discovering joys in the music as they play it, and the well balanced monaural broadcast sound is more than adequate.

The Brahms Piano Quartet, from a concert given with the Juilliard String Quartet at the Hunter College Playhouse in 1972, is also a clean, well balanced monaural recording and like other chamber music performances with the Guarneri members and Masselos released in this series, it shows four musicians on the same wave length throughout. The piano dominates where it should, and plays a subsidiary role where that is appropriate. The third movement Andante is particularly lovely here, but all four movements benefit from the kind of attention to detail given by Masselos and the Guarneri members. What distinguishes their playing, in fact, is their obvious attention to details of phrasing, inflection, and dynamic shading while maintaining the feeling of spontaneous music-making, and even a sense of joy in the process."

- Henry Fogel, FANFARE

"Masselos was born in 1920 and died in 1992. His main teacher was Carl Friedburg, a pupil of Clara Schumann, and he was thus steeped in the German tradition, but advocacy for new music was a huge part of his artistry and career. Norbeck, Peters, and Ford (www.norpete.com), which sells this label, indicates that the recording came from Masselos' own collection.

Yves St. Laurent (no relationship with the designer) is a company dedicated to finding performances that really merit public exposure and preservation, and to doing it with the highest possible audio quality. They accomplish this successfully."

- Henry Fogel, FANFARE

"In musical circles, Mr. Masselos was one of the most respected pianists of his time. He played the premiere performances of Charles Ives' Piano Sonata #1 (in 1949, 40 years after it was written) and of Aaron Copland's most ambitious work for keyboard, Piano Fantasy (1957). He commissioned and played the premiere performance of Ben Weber's Piano Concerto (1961). He was a pianist admired for his incisive, individual performances of contemporary and American music.

Mr. Masselos also played, penetratingly, music by composers as divergent as Brahms, Schumann, Griffes and Satie. Because he felt that concertgoing had become ritualized, he experimented with programs of unusual length and scope. In 1969, for example, he offered a three-and-a-half-hour concert at Carnegie Hall [above] that included works by Dane Rudhyar, Ives, Webern, Copland, Ben Weber, Schumann, Satie and Chopin, punctuated with four intermissions. The audience was invited to come and go as it pleased, to enjoy or avoid the musical schools of their choice.

'He always was one of the better American pianists', Harold C. Schonberg wrote in THE NEW YORK TIMES after Mr. Masselos' marathon concert. 'Now he has developed into a great one. He plays in a rather unostentatious manner, and that may count against him on the circuit, where pianists put on a big show. But he has everything. To look over some of the virtues: tone, technique, musicianship, style, imagination, sensitivity. That will do for a start'.

William Masselos was born in Niagara Falls, N.Y., on 11 Aug., 1920. He studied at the Juilliard School, where his principal teacher was Carl Friedberg. He made his debut in 1939.

He was a regular participant in the WNYC American Music Festivals from 1946 through the mid-50's. He made his debut with the New York Philharmonic in 1952, playing the Brahms Concerto in d minor under the direction of Dimitri Mitropoulos. He worked with many conductors, among them Pierre Monteux and Leonard Bernstein. Although many thought of Mr. Masselos as a new-music specialist, he never eschewed the classics; 'I approach modern music in exactly the same way I approach Brahms or Schumann or Chopin', he said in 1971. 'Of course, new music is always a discovery, a new journey. When I prepare a new score by, say, Copland or Ben Weber or William Mayer, I begin by sight-reading it. It's like taking your first walk in a forest path, and you're very aware and alert, because it's a first, and it's a fresh experience. Then, little by little, things fall into place, and suddenly you know where you are; things become familiar'."

- THE NEW YORK TIMES, 24 Oct., 1992

"Until the year 2000, the New York City-based Guarneri Quartet consisted of the same four players who comprised the group at its 1964 founding: Arnold Steinhardt (violin), a former assistant concertmaster under Szell in the Cleveland Orchestra; John Dalley (violin), a one-time member of the Oberlin Quartet; Michael Tree (viola), formerly a highly respected concert violinist who converted to the viola; and David Soyer (cello), previously a member of several chamber ensembles, including the Bach Aria Group. Few chamber groups have maintained both the same personnel and such a consistent level of renown for so enduring a period. In 2000, Peter Wiley replaced David Soyer as the group's cellist. He is a former member of the Beaux Arts Trio.

The Guarneri Quartet's roots date to the 1964 Marlboro Festival, where as individual musicians they appeared with various ensembles and with pianist Rudolf Serkin. At the urging of violinist Alexander Schneider, the group collectively agreed to form a string quartet, taking their name from the famous Italian family of violin makers. It quickly achieved critical acclaim with 1965 appearances at the Spoleto Festival and Metropolitan Museum of Art. The group has since regularly appeared at the latter venue and have established other such recurring events, such as the Lincoln Center-based series entitled Guarneri and Friends, which began in 1973. The Guarneri Quartet also made immediate headway in the recording venue, with its traversal of the 16 Beethoven quartets (and Grosse Fugue) for RCA, issued from 1966-1969 [S0245 & S0244], which received several prestigious awards. The group gave highly acclaimed performances of all the Beethoven quartets in a historic 1970 series of concerts in London. For the first decade or so of its existence, the Guarneri players had developed a reputation largely associated with eighteenth and nineteenth century repertory staples, but in the mid-'70s, the group shifted its focus to include important works from the twentieth century, like the six quartets of Béla Bartok, which the quartet also recorded to critical acclaim. Its repertory would later broaden to include not only works by Stravinsky, but Henze (piano quintet) and Rorem (String Quartet #3). Most of the group's early recordings appeared on RCA, but they moved to Philips in 1986, their first issue coming late that year with the Smetana String Quartet #1, 'From My Life'. They re-recorded much of their repertory for Philips including the Beethoven quartets. In the late 1990s, the group also started issuing recordings on the Arabesque label and in 2001, they made their first compact disc for a new label - Surrounded by Entertainment.

The Guarneri Quartet has also garnered numerous awards apart from those associated with its many recordings. In 1982, New York's Mayor Edward Koch gave the group the New York Seal of Recognition and the State University of New York (S.U.N.Y.) issued members honorary doctorate degrees in 1983, their second such citation, the first coming in 1976 from the University of South Florida.

The Guarneri Quartet has also reached its audiences via numerous broadcasts over radio and several appearances on television, including a particularly notable one from 1990 on the CBS Network's Sunday Morning program, hosted by Charles Kuralt, which featured an interview with the players. The group was also the subject of a 1989 film entitled High Fidelity - The Guarneri String Quartet. Several books have focused on their artistry as well, including the 1986 Alfred A. Knopf publication THE ART OF QUARTET PLAYING: The Guarneri in Conversation with David Blum. In 1998, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux published Arnold Steinhardt's own book INDIVISIBLE BY FOUR: A String Quartet in Pursuit of Harmony."

- Robert Cummings, allmusic.com