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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Six Quartets Dedicated to Haydn: No. 14 in G, K387 (1782) [29’57]; No. 15 in D minor, K421 (1783) [28’44]; No. 16 in E flat, K428 (1783) [23’17]; No. 17 in B flat, K458, ‘Hunt’ (1784) [21’28]; No. 18 in A, K464 (1785) [29’09]; No. 19 in C, K465, ‘Dissonance’ (1785) [25’29].
Guarneri String Quartet (Arnold Steinhardt, John Dalley, violins; Michael Tree, viola; David Soyer, cello).
No rec. info given.
RCA RED SEAL COMPLETE COLLECTIONS 82876 60390-2 [3 CDs: 58’58 + 45’30 + 55’29]

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 matters.

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.

Colin Clarke

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