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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
The String Quartets Volume 1

String Quartet in B flat K458 The Hunt (1784) [31.39]
String Quartet in C K465 Dissonance (1785) [38.33]
Adagio and Fugue in C minor K546 (1788) [7.17]
Coull Quartet
rec. St Paul’s Church, Birmingham, September 2003 and July 2004 (K546)
SOMM CD 040 [77.44]

When a quartet has been together as long as has the Coull then one can expect certain important constituents to be firmly in place. And this is just the disc to prove it. These performances sound natural, unaffected and full of clarity. They’re also naturally balanced, both in terms of internal dynamics and also in the case of the recording, which is equally full of warmth and clarity. St Paul’s, Birmingham, sounds a congenial acoustic – or maybe it’s just that Somm’s engineers have captured it with care. Whichever, these are fine performances and worthy of your attention.

Take a listen to the canny balance in the opening of the Hunt – here and elsewhere you’ll note the full complement of repeats. Textures are light without becoming tremulous or insubstantial; bowing is thought through, as it must be, and the first and second violins, Roger Coull and Philip Galloway, have long matched tonal blends. However familiar these works are to the Coull – they must have played them scores of times – the results here are never less than fresh and engaging; there’s a relatively leisurely warmth that pleases. They take the adagio at a flowingly expressive tempo –it never sounds either harried or lingering – with accents bearing down with just the right weight. Here one can appreciate how well integrated the viola and cello strands are in a performance of this kind. And in the finale the tempo is fluid and flexible; this isn’t hothouse playing, and neither is it didactic. It’s, on the contrary, pragmatic, sensitive and thoroughly understanding.

The word natural comes to mind in The Dissonance as well. Again repeats are taken so that the opening movement extends to past the fourteen-minute mark. There are many examples of repeatless traversals on disc, from the Budapest through the Amadeus et al, so one should welcome a mainstream quartet essaying them. They don’t overdo the dissonant opening, preferring to make their points through subtlety rather than overstatement. Inner rhythms are tight yet sprung, voicings always audible, and the dynamics are well and convincingly shaped. In the slow movement the impression one gets is that they seek constantly to respect the cantabile marking; this is quite intensely coloured and contoured and contrasted with a buoyantly delivered Minuet and a clear eyed and bracing Allegro finale with its repeats intact. As a pendant we have the C minor Adagio and Fugue, a piece that the Griller Quartet did so well, and which shows that the Coull can focus and refine its concentration on even the smaller, more compact pieces with equal success.

Billed as Volume 1 I think we can look forward to more releases of this quality from a fine, if I also think somewhat taken-for–granted quartet. They certainly don’t take these works for granted and the results are commensurately elevated and musical. An auspicious start.

Jonathan Woolf

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