S0734. GUARNERI QUARTET: String Quartet #6 in D (Bartok); w.RUDOLF SERKIN: Piano Quintet #2 in A (Dvorák). [Wonderful performances in the uniquely resonant Carnegie Hall acoustic; this jewel is not to be missed!] (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL T-747, Live Performance, 20 Feb., 1973, Carnegie Hall.
“Rudolf Serkin joined the international elite while still a teen-ager and by incessant, tireless practice held ranking for more than half a century as an artist of the highest type. He was an eminent 20th-century representative of a Viennese tradition that mingled the classical and romantic styles of pianism.
Among the dozens of recordings he made, those in which he teamed as a chamber-music partner with Adolf Busch, the German violinist, are especially prized by collectors. It was Mr. Busch who promoted the young pianist's European career, presenting him as a soloist in Bach's Brandenburg Concerto #5 at Mr. Serkin's Berlin début in 1921. Mr. Serkin regarded Busch as one of the three musicians who most deeply influenced him. The others were his onetime composition teacher, Arnold Schönberg, and the conductor Arturo Toscanini. Mr. Serkin studied composition, first with Joseph Marx and later with Schönberg, and published a string quartet. He made his concert début with the Vienna Symphony at 12, playing the Mendelssohn g minor Concerto. At 17, Mr. Serkin met Busch, who was looking for a pianist to accompany him in a concert. They struck up a friendship and Busch took the younger musician along with him to Berlin on tour. Busch was then 30 years old and internationally established as a violinist. Soon Mr. Serkin was appearing in the great cities of Europe both as accompanist and as chamber-music performer with the Busch Chamber Players.
In April 1933, with the Nazis in the ascendancy in Germany, Busch stirred a controversy by refusing to appear at a Brahms centennial celebration in Hamburg. Although not Jewish himself, he was offended because a young Jewish pianist had been denied permission to play. The pianist was Rudolf Serkin.
Mr. Serkin had moved with the Busch family to Darmstadt in 1922. In 1927 they all left Germany and settled near Basel, Switzerland. After Hitler's rise to power, they applied for Swiss citizenship, which they held until all became American citizens in 1950.
Mr. Serkin first played in the United States in 1933 with Busch at a Coolidge Festival concert in the Library of Congress in Washington. He did not perform here again until his formal début in New York on 20 Feb., 1936, when he appeared as soloist with the New York Philharmonic under Toscanini. His recital début came on 11 Jan., 1937, at Carnegie Hall. The next year Mr. Serkin and Busch performed the complete cycle of Beethoven sonatas at Town Hall. In 1939, Mr. Serkin joined the piano faculty of the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, where he taught for 36 years. From 1968 to 1975 he was director of the Institute.
Great though Mr. Serkin's success was as a concert pianist, perhaps his most lasting impact on musical life was as a teacher and inspirational force. In 1949, he helped found the Marlboro Festival in Vermont. Living in the same area at the time were Adolf and Herman Busch, Blanche Honegger Moyse, Louis Moyse and Marcel Moyse, all renowned musicians who had also left Europe. They merged their talents and quickly turned Marlboro into an American chamber-music mecca and a magnet for talent. The word ‘Marlboro’ came to stand for musicianship of a special, ardent type. Each summer, Mr. Serkin and his circle were joined by like-minded artists, including Pablo Casals, Alexander Schneider, Felix Galimir, Mieczyslaw Horszowski, Jaime and Ruth Laredo, Eugene Istomin, Pina Carmirelli and Peter Serkin (Mr. Serkin's son, himself a world-class pianist). At Marlboro, Mr. Serkin made a point of being a musician among colleagues, as ready to turn pages for other players as to perform. Friends of Mr. Serkin -- and he seemed to have no enemies -- spoke with incredulity of his unfailing good humor, his shy and sweet-tempered manner with everyone, the unknown as well as the famous. A longtime colleague, after giving the phenomenon some thought, remarked: 'It's impossible to talk about anybody's being saintly in this age, but Serkin is'."
- Donal Henahan, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 10 May, 1991
"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, 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