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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Complete String Quintets, Volume 1
Quintet in B flat major, K174
Quintet in E flat major, K614

Ensemble Villa Musica
Rec 1-2 Nov 2000, Fürstliche Reitbahn Bad Arolsen
MDG 304 1031-2
[71.23]

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This is the first in a projected complete set of the Mozart string quintets, so there should be another couple of discs to follow, unless additional repertoire is added. These quintets are arguably the composer's most significant achievement in the field of chamber music, so any new recordings are worthy of enthusiastic attention. The featured works here are the first and the last of the series, dating from 1773 and 1791 respectively.

It is only natural to regard K174 as an apprentice composition, since it was written soon after the seventeen-year old Mozart had returned to Salzburg, following his opera tours of Italy. An interesting feature of this recording is that the performers have included the two alternative movements (Minuet and final Allegro) which Mozart wrote first before changing his mind with revisions. While this music is certainly the least often performed of all the quintets (and always will be), it is a good example of his work at the very time when his genius was starting to emerge as a truly individual personality. True, the music does not search for profundity, but rather sets out to entertain, but it has abundant charm, fluency and taste.

This performance communicates all these strengths, aided by a recording which allows the performers to be heard in an atmospheric acoustic and with a well balanced ensemble. In other words, the priorities seem ideal for chamber music. The Ensemble Villa Musica acquit themselves with distinction in both quintets. Since they are among the leading chamber musicians in Germany, with distinguished careers behind them as 'former concertmasters and principal soloists of great orchestras such as the Berlin Philharmonic and Bavarian Radio Symphony' (to quote the accompanying booklet), the standard of playing is particularly assured.

In the E flat Quintet, K614, the high standard of performance is allied to music which finds Mozart at the height of his powers during the last year of his life. In fact this turned out to be the composer's final essay in the field of chamber music, and it makes a worthy conclusion. The style owes something to the influence of Haydn, with closer contrapuntal working among the parts than Mozart generally used. These details are clearly focused here. The added richness brought to the quintet ensemble always appealed to this composer; and in this performance, with its nicely balanced sound and well chosen tempi, it is easy to understand why.

Terry Barfoot



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