Saturday, April 30, 2022

Laura Newell and the Stuyvesant String Quartet

Jay Shulman, the son of the great composer and cellist Alan Shulman as well as the nephew of the great violinist Sylvan Shulman (both Alan and Sylvan were members of the Stuyvesant String Quartet), sent me this excellent recording last week. Some of the music on it is familiar to me, like the nifty neo-classical Casella Harp Sonata, the Respighi Ancient Airs and Dances, the Malipiero Sonata, and the harp solo from Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, but some of it is not, like the Ibert Trio for Violin, Cello, and Harp, Laura Newell's amazing transcription of Respighi's 1904 Notturno, and the 1919 Quintet for Strings and Harp by Arnold Bax.

Jay introduces Laura Newell eloquently:
The present album of selected works performed by harpist Laura Newell. American harpist Laura Newell was born December 16, 1900 in Denver. She studied harp there with Kajetan Attl, and at New England Conservatory with Alfred Holy. A pioneering orchestral and chamber freelance musician in the male-dominated musical world of the era, she played with the Cleveland Orchestra, National Symphony, and in New York with WOR's Wallenstein Sinfonietta, NBC Symphony, and on radio and television with The Bell Telephone Hour. She recorded the Britten Ceremony of Carols with Robert Shaw for Victor twice, and recorded the Debussy trio for Columbia and Decca. Her recordings with the Shulman brothers - of the Ravel Introduction and Allegro, with the New Friends of Rhythm, and these recordings for their Philharmonia label - reflect her remarkable versatility, which transcended genres. Her student and close friend, founding editor of the American Harp Journal Sam Milligan, said that she had "the cleanest technique I ever heard." She retired in the early 1970s and devoted her creative activity to painting watercolors, calligraphy and enamels. Laura Newell died in New York City January 24, 1981.
For the harp-minded this is a recording to get for the sensational harp playing, but for my money (or absence of, since this was a surprise gift that came in the mail) the twelve and a half minutes of Bax is of incredible value for people who love chamber music. And the score is in the IMSLP, so if you click on the link you can follow along in order to see how beautifully the piece is put together (as a composition) and how beautifully it is interpreted.

The Stuyvesant Quartet was one of the twentieth century's great string quartets, and these reissues are from recording sessions they had smack in the middle of the century: 1951 and 1953. The original recordings were released on Philharmonia records as PH-102 and PH-109.

You can order the CD here for $11. Eleven bucks for so much mid-century pleasure? It boggles the mind.

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