Reliable versions of
Mozart’s magnificent six Haydn Quartets.
The Guarneri will not set your pulse
racing inordinately, but they do present
eminently satisfying library versions
of these six masterpieces in a compact
slim-line 3-disc set.
Right from the start
of the G major, K387, it’s evident that
there are four equal voices here. The
gentle Menuet and even gentler Trio
suits the Guarneri Quartet well, and
they bring great warmth to the slow
movement, to contrast with the exuberant
finale. Here the contrapuntal passages
take off infectiously.
The D minor quartet
that follows makes for effective contrast;
it is the only one of the Haydn Quartets
to be in the minor. The Guarneri takes
a very serious view – all opportunities
for light are effectively eschewed.
A pity the Andante lacks the requisite
intensity; at least the Menuetto is
robust. The finale regains the determined
territory of the first movement.
The E flat, K428 is
a magnificent specimen. A complex argument
evolves out of the unison opening, an
argument that has its complexity masked
by Mozart’s freely-flowing writing.
The exchanges are marvellously managed
here, including some marvellous viola
playing from Michael Tree, but the glory
of this performance and possibly of
the set as a whole is the A flat Andante
con moto. This is very intimate music-making,
a real sense of the intimate. Glorious.
A shame, then, that the rustic, outrageous,
almost donkey call of the opening of
the Menuetto is not played up enough;
similarly, the dynamic finale just lacks
that final ounce of vim.
For this reviewer,
the quartet K458 (the so-called ‘Hunt’)
is one of Mozart’s most sublime compositions.
Bouncy and intimate, in the Guarneri’s
hands this is a hunt expedition on the
living room carpet, yet the joyful interchanges
make it difficult to resist. The reposeful
Adagio is another slow-movement highlight,
although it is rather balanced out by
the somewhat over-enthusiastic finale,
that tends towards the violent at times!
The shrill recording only exacerbates
A major is Mozart’s
most ‘glowing’ key, and the Guarneri
enjoys the blossoming of counterpoint
in K464’s first movement. A gallant
Andante works particularly well, and
the finale impressively eases into its
own musical space. Peaceful, happy,
smiling - this is a lovely account.
In the ‘Dissonance’
Quartet the Guarneri allocate ample
time for the ingenious counterpoint
of the slow introduction that gives
the work its nickname. In addition,
I like the dismissive, almost impatient
end to the third movement. A pity that
the busy finale is not more inspiring.
In another price-bracket,
try the Hagen Quartet on DG (471 024-2)
– they should cost you around a tenner
more, yet you will find the outlay worth
it if these works are close to your
heart. The design for the present RCA
release is most impressive, though,
and space-saving to boot. It is a slim-line
box in airy white with a nice, modern-ish
photo on the cover and each of the three
discs, with different colours brushed
onto it each time.