Warner Classics
14 CDs - 0190296739200 - (p) & (c) 2021

PRIMA LA MUSICA - The Complete Warner Recordings

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

String Quartet No. 10 in E flat major, Op. 74 Columbia 33QCX 10209 - Mono
(p) 1956 CD 10 35' 41"
String Quartet No. 13 in B flat major, Op. 130 Columbia 33QCX 10026 - Mono
(p) 1953 CD 3 39' 51"

Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805)

String Quartet in A major, Op. 39 No. 8 (G 213) Columbia 33QCX 10024 - Mono
(p) 1953 CD 2 | 6-9 22' 48"
String Quartet in G major "La Tiranna", Op. 44 No. 4 (G 223) Columbia 33QCX 10219 - Mono (p) 1957 CD 11 | 4-5 10' 31"
String Quartet in E flat major, Op. 58 No. 2 (G 243) Columbia 33QCX 10024 - Mono
(p) 1953 CD 2 | 10-13 20' 35"

Johannes Brahms (1833-1887)

String Quartet No. 3 in B flat major, Op. 67 No. 3 Columbia 33QCX 10113 - Mono (p) 1955 CD 5 | 1-4 37' 46"

Giuseppe Maria Cambini (1746-1825)

String Quartet in G minor Columbia 33QCX 10219 - Mono (p) 1957 CD 11 | 6-8 20' 49"

Claude Debussy (1862-1918)

String Quartet in G minor *
Telefunken Italia E 9102-5 - Mono (p) 1946 CD 1 | 1-4 24' 32"

String Quartet in G minor Columbia 33QCX 10054 - Mono (p) 1954 CD 4 | 1-4 26' 37"

Giovanni Gabrieli (1557-1612)

Due canzoni per sonar a quattro Columbia 33QCX 10236 - Mono (p) 1957 CD 12 | 1-2 6' 16"

Baldassare Galuppi (1706-1785)

Concerto a quattro No. 1 in G minor Columbia 33QCX 10219 - Mono (p) 1957 CD 11 | 1-3 13' 13"

Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

String Quartet Op. 3 No. 5 in F major, Hob. III:17 "Serenade" Columbia 33QCX 10114 - Mono (p) 1955 CD 6 | 1-4 16' 53"
String Quartet Op. 33 No. 3 in C major, Hob. III:39 "Bird" Columbia 33QCX 10164 - Mono (p) 1956 CD 8 | 1-4 20' 11"
String Quartet Op. 76 No. 2 in D minor, Hob. III:76 "Fifths" Columbia 33QCX 10114 - Mono (p) 1955 CD 6 | 5-8 21' 34"
String Quartet Op. 76 No. 4 in B flat major, Hob. III:78 "Sunrise" Columbia 33QCX 10164 - Mono (p) 1956 CD 8 | 5-8 24' 24"

Gian Francesco Malipiero (1882-1973)

String Quartet No. 4 Columbia 33QCX 10145 - Mono (p) 1956 CD 7 | 4-5 15' 40"

Biagio Marini (1594-1663)

Balletto primo a tre, Op. 22 n. 1
Columbia 33QCX 10236 - Mono (p) 1957 CD 12 | 3-6 7' 05"

Darius Milhaud (1892-1974)

String Quartet No. 12, Op. 252 (1945) Columbia 33QCX 10054 - Mono (p) 1954 CD 4 | 5-7 15' 57"

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

String Quartet No. 3 in G major, KV 156 (134b) Columbia 33QCX 10381 - Stereo (p) 1960 CD 14 | 5-7 15' 07"
String Quartet No. 14 in G major, KV 387 ("Haydn" Quartet No. 1) Columbia 33QCX 10025 - Mono (p) 1953 CD 2 | 1-4 30' 13"
String Quartet No. 15 in D minor, KV 421 (417b) ("Haydn" Quartet No. 2) Columbia 33QCX 10025 - Mono (p) 1953 CD 2 | 5-8 27' 59"
String Quartet No. 17 in B flat major "Hunt", KV 458 ("Haydn" Quartet No. 4) Columbia 33QCX 10199 - Mono (p) 1956 CD 9 | 1-4 25' 52"

Massimiliano Neri (c.1618-c.1670)

Sonata quinta a quattro, Op. 2 n. 5 Columbia 33QCX 10236 - Mono (p) 1957 CD 12 | 7 9' 35"

Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)

String Quartet No. 2, Op. 92 Columbia 33QCX 10145 - Mono (p) 1956 CD 7 | 1-3 22' 25"

Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)

String Quartet in F major Columbia 33QCX 10381 - Stereo (p) 1960 CD 14 | 1-4 31' 01"

Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725)

Sonata a quattro No. 4 in D minor Columbia 33QCX 10236 - Mono (p) 1957 CD 12 | 9-12 6' 36"

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

String Quartet No. 2 in C major, D 32
Columbia 33QCX 10199 - Mono (p) 1956 CD 8 | 5-8 18' 11"

Robert Schumann (1810-1856)

String Quartet No. 3 in A major, Op. 41 No. 3 Columbia 33QCX 10380 - Stereo (p) 1960 CD 13 | 1-4 33' 21"

Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)

3 Pieces for String Quartet (1914) Columbia 33QCX 10380 - Stereo (p) 1960 CD 13 | 5-7 6' 27"

Leonardo Vinci (1690-1730)

Gavotta (12 Soli per violino e arpicordo) *
Telefunken Italia E 9102-5 - Mono (p) 1946 CD 1 | 5 3' 19"

Giovanni Battista Vitali (1632-1692)

Capriccio in F major Columbia 33QCX 10236 - Mono (p) 1957 CD 12 | 8 5' 06"

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)

Sonata a quattro in E-flat major "Al Santo Sepolcro", RV 130 Columbia 33QCX 10236 - Mono (p) 1957 CD 12 | 13-14 5' 06"

- Paolo Borciani, Elisa Pegreffi, violino
- Piero Farulli, Lionello Forzanti*, viola
Franco Rossi, violoncello


Luogo e data di registrazione
(dettagli in ogni scheda discografica)

Registrazione: live / studio

Producer / Engineer
Raymond McGill | Ben Wiseman at The Audio Archiving Company Limited

Prima Edizione LP

Prima Edizione CD
Decca | 478 8824 | 37 CDs | (c) 2015 | ADD


Italy's concentration on opera in the nineteenth century made sense at the time, but there was a price to pay for the neglect of orchestral and chamber music. By the early twentieth century, the country was in the invidious position of having distinguished quartet societies, but no home-grown ensemble capable of matching the visiting quartets who graced their programmes. Four young people who met at the Accademia Chigiana, Siena, in 1942 resolved to change all that. Paolo Borciani, Elisa Pegreffi, Lionello Forzanti and Franco Rossi spearheaded a movement which by the 1950s took their country into the forefront of chamber music. They got on so well, preparing Debussy’s Op. 10 under Arturo Bonucci's tutelage, that they swore to meet again when the war was over. So in the summer of 1945 they founded the Nuovo Quartetto Italiano, the 'New' distinguishing them from a previous ensemble and signifying their intention to put Italy on the chamber music map.
They aimed to play all their repertoire from memory, as the Kolisch Quartet had done. Meeting in the Borciani family's Reggio Emilia apartment, they worked on their first programme: three pieces by Corelli, the Debussy, Stravinsky's Concertino and Beethoven's First ‘Rasumovsky
with a Vinci gavotte as an encore. 'They had some sponsors,’ recalled Paolo's elder brother Guido Borciani, an engineer but also a pianist who played and recorded with Mainardi, 'and we put together a small orchestra, with two singers, and gave some concerts in small musical centres to make money for them. I remember one concert which we started with the overture to I vespri Siciliani - and we always had a waltz by Strauss.' The Borciani brothers and Franco Rossi also gave a trio concert to raise funds. The first New Italian Quartet recital was given in Carpi on 12 November 1945. It was followed by one in Reggio Emilia and in December they reached Milan, where a critic wrote: 'One may, without any uncertainty, speak of an important revelation in the field of chamber music.' By then they had already added to their repertoire Haydn's Op. 76 No. 2 and Op. 64 No. 6, Boccherini's Op. 6 Nos. 1 and 3, Schumann's F major, Kodaly's Second, Turina's La oración del torero, Beethoven’s Third ’Rasumovsky' and Bartok's Sixth (soon dropped, although they later took up the First). In 1946 they added Mozart's 'Dissonance' and Clarinet Quintet (with Antoine de Bavier).
In March 1946 they made their first 78rpm recording, the Debussy, for the Italian label Durium; on the eighth side was the Vinci gavotte. As can be heard on this first official reissue, the Debussy received a sympathetic reading, with ’Nello' Forzanti making a good showing in the important viola part; yet within a year he left the Quartetto to pursue a conducting career. His successor was the tall, serious Piero Farulli, a Florentine aged 26 who had been waiting in the wings; with him they had to work up their small repertoire all over again. By autumn 1947 they were adding Giardini’s Op. 23 No. 4, Dittersdorf's E-flat, Villa-Lobos's new Ninth, Bloch's new Second, Glazunov's Fourth and Beethoven’s Op. 130 (with substitute finale). 'The first time they played the Op. 130, it was a direct broadcast - and they played it by heart,
' Guido Borciani remembered. The years 1947 and 1948 saw them tour Austria, Britain, Spain, France, Germany and Holland, gaining glowing reviews of which Bernard Gavoty's was typical: 'The Nuovo Quartetto Italiano made a sensational debut in Paris, and for once the word is not too strong. I have never seen such simultaneity of attack, a like transparency of sound, a similar devotion to the common cause.'
The BBC brought them to Britain in August 1947, to give the first three of many broadcasts for the new cultural Third Programme. They returned for more broadcasts in October and again in March 1948, when they played at the Manchester Chamber Concerts Society in place of the Paganini Quartet. This society invited them back regularly and the BBC began presenting them in live concerts in the Concert Hall of Broadcasting House, before invited audiences, as well as in studio performances. Their discs for Decca revealed an ensemble reminiscent of the pre-war Franco-Belgian quartets, such as the Flonzaley or the Pro Arte, light-toned and mercurial, with athletic, delicate bowing. There were already indications of a beauty of tone equalled in their own generation only by the Hollywood, Smetana and Borodin Quartets. They combined grace and lightness with a touch of portamento, but their charm and elegance had a deeper side. They had now taken up Malipiero's Fourth Quartet of 1934, Haydn’s Op. 77 No. 1, Mozart's Adagio and Fugue, Milhaud's lovely 12th Quartet, written in memory of Fauré, and the Verdi - which sadly they discarded after 1960 as they grew tired of being asked for it, especially in Germany where it had been popular since the Busch Quartet's performances of the 1920s.
In 1951, after many invitations, they were finally ready to tour the United States, 'the country where we were playing the trump card of our future’, as Farulli put it. Well prepared, they were a huge success: Virgil Thomson wrote of 'the finest string quartet, unquestionably, that our century has known. Perfection is the only word to describe this playing, perfection of a kind and degree that no quartet lover living, and no quartet player, has heard before' (New York Herald Tribune, 5 November 1951). Symbolically they had now dropped the 'Nuovo' from their name. In 1952 Elisa Pegreffi became Signora Borciani but in September Paolo fell ill and they had to cancel a 74-concert U.S. tour. Not until 30 January 1953, after five months of inactivity, could they resume their concert career. The birth on 30 May of Mario Borciani, destined to be a pianist and composer, was not allowed to disrupt their schedule and within two weeks they were recording in Milan. They now had a new label, Columbia, for which they taped Beethoven’s Op. 130, with an angelic Cavatina; Mozart's K387 and K421; and two Boccherini quartets they had not yet played in public, Op. 39 No. 8, with its wonderful Grave, and Op. 58 No. 2. The following year they added the Milhaud and a remake of the Debussy.
By now they were coming closer to an 'Italian' sound, with suave, sonorous bowing and chording. Paolo Borciani, proud of their international reputation, once sternly rebuked an Italian journalist who described them as a national phenomenon. Yet it was, perhaps, the Quartetto's central strength that the players were so deeply rooted in a national context, that they played in an italianate way, with a recognisably Italian style. You would have to go a long way to find anything more elegant than their phrasing of the opening movement of Boccherini's Op. 58 No. 2. Unlike the Quintetto Boccherini, who tended to employ the some full tone all the time, riding roughshod over Boccherini's dynamic markings, the Quartetto observed a wide range of dynamics and never overdid their vibrato. 'On vibrato, each listened to each; we were four and yet we had the same sort of vibrato - it just came like that,’ said Elisa Pegreffi. In the concert hall, as on their best records, they also gave out an indefinable yet almost palpable spiritual radiance in slow movements. The platform demeanour of Madama Pegreffi-Borciani in particular was positively seraphic - ’Oh! That woman!’ a colleague enthused to this writer after a performance in the 1960s.
Inevitably, critical voices were raised amid the acclaim, mostly picking on rhythm and an over-concentration on tonal homogeneity. At the root of the Quartetto's problems - if, indeed, they were problems - was Wilhelm Furtwängler. Meeting him at the Salzburg Festival in 1949, they ran through Brahms's F minor Quintet with him at the piano and were bowled over by his approach. That one evening changed their whole attitude to their work - curiously, the Trio di Trieste had already undergone a similar epiphany with this conductor, in 1944, also involving Brahms - and it can now be seen that the 1950s were a transitional decade for the Quartetto, as they struggled to bring a new rhythmic freedom to bear on their innate (albeit italianate) Classicism. It says much for their positive qualities that they surmounted this period, winning the admiration of many of their peers. Incidentally, their lustrous sound was achieved on quite modest instruments: Borciani had a Rocca and borrowed a Vuillaume from the Peterlongo collection; Pegreffi had a Decomble; Farulli an Iginio Sderci; and Rossi a Capicchioni until the last phase of his career, when he had Mario Brunello’s Maggini.
In rehearsal, Borciani and Rossi were dominant while Farulli, naturally quiet and dignified, mostly kept his firmlyheld musical opinions to himself and Pegreffi, voluble in private life, respected her colleagues too much to lay down the law except on questions of repertoire (she vetoed Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky and held them to one piece by Malipiero). 'There was no pacifist in the Quartetto,' she said, 'but Farulli and I were more ready to accept what the others said, because we knew we had two great musicians with us. We never joked - we quarrelled but we never joked!' On a technical level, Borciani was a born leader and Pegreffi was the perfect second violin, making a miraculous match with her husband and meeting Farulli's darker tone at the other extreme. Rossi was 'a poet,' in the opinion of Antonín Kohout, his opposite number in the Smetana Quartet. All four were notable individuals, able to take solos with aplomb, and their control of intonation was uncanny. 'The cello’s tuning often went down but Rossi always managed to adjust the pitch,' said Pegreffi. 'We never tuned between movements; it meant having very good ears but we could retune even during movements, using the Pirastro fine-tuners. It was typical of the way in which each of us was very attentive to what the others were doing - the clarity came out.’ With two such cultured musicians at the top and bottom of the range, and two such gifted players of the inner parts, they made a rare combination, as they continued to show with 1955 records of Brahms's Op. 67, Haydn's 'Serenade' (since re-attributed to Hofstetter) and 'Fifths', Malipiero's Fourth and Prokofiev's Second.
Of course they were asked to teach and they did so individually, the violinists in Milan and Farulli and Rossi in Florence. Of equal value were their masterclasses at the Royal Academy of Stockholm and especially their summer courses at the Vacanze Musicali in Venice. 'They taught as a group and they played a lot forthe students,’ said Wilhelm Melcher of the Melos Quartet, who went there. 'Many things about playing quartets cannot be described, they can only be demonstrated - it gives the students something to copy.'
In1956, needing to expand their range, they began to depart from their policy of playing by heart. They recorded Beethoven’s 'Harp', one of their best interpretations; Haydn's 'Bird' and 'Sunrise’; and Mozart’s 'Hunt' coupled with an outstanding rendering of Schubert's Second Quartet in C, performed with gusto and freshness. The Schubert was new to them - and partly new to the rest of us, as Maurice Brown had only recently discovered two of its movements. This year also produced two LPs entitled The Italian String Quartet. The first, representing the seventeenth century, featured Gabrieli, Marini, Neri, Vitali, Alessandro Scarlatti and Vivaldi, often played senza vibrato. The second, devoted to the eighteenth century and one of their most delectable programmes, included the first of Galuppi's Concerti a quattro, Boccherini's La Tirana Spagnola and a Cambini quartet. In 1959 they set down the Ravel, on which they had been working since 1952, coupled with Mozart's K156; and Schumann's A major with Stravinsky's Three Pieces. Although these were their first stereo records, the two-channel versions appeared only in Italy; and none of the Columbia LPs lasted long in the international catalogue, though most were still available in Italy until the late 1960s and the stereo items were reissued there in 1972.
This first comprehensive CD edition of the Quartetto Italiano's Columbia output means that the fruits of their entire studio career are now available. They still had four decades ahead of them, during which they toured farther and farther afield, accumulated more accolades and became living legends to younger players. Since their disbandment in 1980, all four members from their great days have died, Borciani in 1985, Rossi in 2006, Farulli in 2012 and Pegreffi in 2016
Tully Potter, 2021