Unseen video of a legendary string quartet

I was discussing with Leonard Slatkin last week my upcoming selections for Beethoven string quartets when he remembered that his brother Fred had a private performance by their parents, the only time the Hollywood String Quartet ever ventured onto video.

Leonard uploaded it onto Youtube and you’re among the first to see it.

The playing is glorious and the parents, in the foreground, are in tight control.

Leonard Slatkin adds: This half-hour-long program was supposed to be the first in a series, and I recently discovered it with the help of my brother, Fred. It is the only video documentation of the ensemble. You will probably notice different camera angles and even configurations of the quartet. They must have pre-recorded some of this and did the equivalent of lip syncing for some passages. The Beethoven was never commercially released on Capitol records. I wanted to share this with all of you because even though music is about listening, sometimes seeing is believing. Watch my dad’s bow arm and see if you can name anyone else who had such superb control. And my mom’s vibrato is always consistent and well-centered. There were two versions produced. One had the dean of the USC School of Music doing a rather unfortunate job of trying to describe what a quartet is. The second, and the one I have posted, has moments meant for sponsor placement. The narrator is Thomas Cassidy, who was the voice of classical music on the now-defunct radio station KFAC. He also delivered the intermission announcements at the Hollywood Bowl. This rarity is truly something to treasure, and I hope you all enjoy it.

 

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  • Thank you, Maestro, for this wonderful gift. The artistry is amazing; seeing as well as hearing it indeed increases my appreciation of the Hollywood String Quartet. And hearing Thomas Cassidy’s mellifluous voice brings back great memories of childhood, when the family would listen to him on The Gas Company’s evening program on KFAC from 8 to 10 o’clock. When I was a young child, bedtime would come during the program, and I’d lie in bed, listening to the music coming from the living room stereo, until the closing theme, my cue to fall asleep. Cassidy’s weekend program, Luncheon at the Music Center, took place in the restaurant of the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion and feature pleasant interviews with local and visiting musical artists, accompanied by the background clink of cutlery and murmurs of the regular restaurant patrons.

    Times have changed… nowhere is that more apparent than when Cassidy says “We are all familiar, I am sure, with the music of Hugo Wolf…” — in a program intended for television broadcast!!!

    • I was also going to comment on the mention of Thomas Cassidy. That brought back some fond memories of Los Angeles in the 1970s.

  • Wonderful; what a treasure. I have all of the recordings made by the Hollywood Quartet. Thank you, Fred, Leonard, and Norman.

  • Wow. Thank you for this opportunity and rare gift. So many things for the string player to focus on in this tape, including Felix Slatkin’s fourth finger trills, something we lesser mortals do almost anything to avoid. And the sound is surprisingly clear and balanced – hard to believe it was recorded in that room with all the overstuffed furniture.

    The various seating configurations of the HSQ may have served artistic ideas of the producer but I feared for the instruments or the players – there were times when things got so cramped together Slatkin’s violin scroll was dangerously near Shure’s bow hand or left hang or his own scroll.

    I wish my late teacher Phil Grossman could have lived to see this. His father and teacher, Isadore Grossman, was one of Felix Slatkin’s early teachers.

  • What a wonderful treat. Growing up in LA in the ’50s, I felt a boatload of memories brought back by the participants. During meals, my family would always tune to KFAC on our little Packard Bell radio right next to the dining table. It was my introduction to classical music (my Dad would turn down the announcement of the next piece, and we’d try to guess the composer). As night rolled around, it was time for the Evening Concert, sponsored by the Gas Company and hosted by Thomas Cassidy. I never missed it. So great to see him onscreen. Attending all those early concerts by the LA Chamber Orchestra (led by Neville Marriner, no less), watching the gray-bearded Paul Shure walk onstage with that twinkling smile and then call for the concert A – more delicious memories. As for the film, it was astonishingly good, thanks to the brilliant work of Hal Mohr (not to mention the superb playing by the squeezed-together Hollywood Quartet). I honestly don’t know how he shot and pasted it all up so seamlessly. Thanks to Leonard Slatkin for sharing this rare and elegant bit of LA music history.

  • Thank you for this.

    The prejudice against L.A. based music ensembles, simply because they weren’t members of the previously considered “musical elite” were never more evident than in this world class performance.

  • On You Tube you will find a fascinating 1 hr 2003 BBC documentary featuring Leonard conducting the BBC Symphony and Fred playing his mother’s Cello in a complete performance of the Korngold Cello Concerto composed for the 1946 Warner Bros. Film”Deception”. Also a history of Korngold from boy genius in Vienna, praised by Mahler, brought to Hollywood by Max Reinhardt to adapt Mendelsson’s “A Midsummer Nights Dream for Warner Bros and eventually returned to Hollywood when The Nazis invaded Austria and appropriated his household.

    Look for “Korngold Slatkin BBC Documentary. Enjoy.

    • There was also a documentary we did about Miklos Rozsa that did not make its way to YouTube. Perhaps some enterprising person can find it and post. More HSQ history and some really great interviews on it.

      • That would indeed be a find. I was just wondering whether the HSQ might have performed Rozsa’s quartets…

    • Gawan it is the Andante cantabile movement from Tchaikovsky’s String Quartet #1. You also hear a bit of it at the end, and in less watery sound. The HSQ recorded the whole quartet – reommended. Another somewhat relevant way to hear the whole slow movement played by an orchestra is the “Strings by Starlight” album conducted by … the same Felix Slatkin. Years ago EMI coupled most of that album with the entire Magic Bow LP’s contents – popular chestnuts played by Michael Rabin with Felix Slatkin conducting the Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra.

  • Hal, Marc, Peter –In those days did you ever hear of an LA pianist namd Mark Ginzburg, not sure of the spelling? He played a 90th birthday recital in the Biltmore ballroom the winter of 1955-56, Don Juan Fantasy and Hammerklavier several times each, forgetting and starting over, and announced at the end he’d never play again to weak protests of No, No. I can’t find anything abut him.

    I didn’t hear HSQ, but heard their great extra cellist Kurt Reher and his violist brother Sven of the LA Phil play Schubert’s Trout at Merry Mount and Brahms’s G-minor quartet with pianist Leonard Stein and others I don’t remember at the Boyle Heights YMCA. Kurt Reher impressed me and I asked indiscreetly if he was the best cellist in LA. He said, “No, George Neikrug is.”

    I talked to Leonard Slatkin about this at a Tower signing in Chicago over his CD of Brahms’s Serenade in A.

    It was a good time in LA: Wallenstein; Heifetz, Piatigorsky, Primrose chamber group; Bruno Walter, Mischa Elman, Erica Morini, Karajan and the BPO first tour at Shrine Auditorium, Gieseking, Backhaus, Casadesus, SFO on tour with Birgit Nilsson, Peerce, Siepi ,Svanholm, Albanesi, Schwarzkopf, Hans Hotter, Leinsdorf conducting and playing recitatives by memory, Jaques Rachmilovich, Werner Janssen, the movie colony in attendance …Orson Welles and his slim bew Italian wife, the unslim, lNina Koshets, Albert Bassermann, Joseph Cotten.

    I really hope someone knows something about Mark Ginzburg, who is driving mea little crazy.

    • Mr. Self: alas, I have no memories or knowledge of Mark GInzburg — I was one or two years old when he played that unfortunate recital…

      • Peter, even a negative reply keeps contact and eliminates possibilities, thanks. Not your fault you are so young; there can’t be many around who knew maark Ginzbug, but someone may have heard something or remember. Keep posting.

        By the way, the obsessive Kurt Reher is extra cellist in HSQ’s superb Schubert-Schoenberg. George Neikrug is tougher to find. There’s a Bloch “Schelomo” with Stokowski, and some of his students’ recollections. Sorry to be so off-topic, nuy it’s my cpnnexion to the HSQ, and I’m desperate.

  • Thank you all for your more than kind comments. I am continuing to mine the archives and think I have some transcription discs from WW2 with my father playing some solos as well as conducting the Army-Air Force Tactical Command Orchestra. Yes, that was its name. Will keep you posted.

  • This is precious for all of us. I can hardly imagine how meaningful it is for you and your family members, Mr. Slatkin.

    I am curious about the setting: is it a real private space or a studio set up?

  • Along with spectacular recordings of Verklärte Nacht, Schubert Cello Quintet and Borodin String Quartet No. 2, the HSQ appeared on the Frank Sinatra album “Close to You.” They were the epitome of versatility and class.

  • Coincidentally, this week France Musique is rebroadcasting a five-part interview from last fall with Leonard Slatkin. In the first half-hour installment this evening, he talks at length about growing up in his musical family, about the HSQ, about the first piece that made a lasting impression on him (Villa Lobos’ sixth quartet) heard on the stairs leading to his bedroom when he was a child, and the many musicians who frequented the Slatkin home.

    If you don’t speak French (there’s a voiceover), you can mostly make out what Slatkin is saying in English. A pure delight!

    https://www.francemusique.fr/emissions/les-grands-entretiens/leonard-slatkin-chef-d-orchestre-1-5-76108

    The series continues every night this week and should be available for some time on the station’s Web site.

  • “…One had the dean of the USC School of Music doing a rather unfortunate job of trying to describe what a quartet is…”

    We must see that.

    I’m imagining something like Deems Taylor in “Fantasia”.

  • Fabulous! I had a performance of this work canceled that was to occur in three weeks. Perfect tempo in finale.

  • The blocking and camera work are superb. The inventiveness, variety, and flow all complement and support the music wonderfully. They engage without intruding. The director is the equal at his trade as the musicians are at theirs.

    Would that other quartets would practice or allow such unorthodox seating arrangements. Perhaps having the word Hollywood in their name made them amenable and comfortable with this.

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