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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Flute Quartets
Flute Quartet No. 1 in D major, KV 285 (1777) [13:54]
Flute Quartet No. 2 in G major, KV 285a (1778) [9:05]
Flute Quartet No. 3 in C major, KV Anh. 171 (KV 285b) (c.1781-82) [15:38]
Flute Quartet No. 4 in A major, KV 298 (c.1786-87) [10:51]
Sabine Dreier (flute); Gilles Colliard (violin); Marie Legendre (viola); Michael Kevin Jones (cello)
rec. 6 August 2006, X Edition of Conciertos de Camera de la Ojeda, Palencia, Spain, live. DDD
EMEC E-072 [52:46] 


Mozart did not have a high regard for the flute being especially unimpressed because of its tuning problems. Nevertheless he wrote several high quality works for the instrument. The necessary inspiration came around 1777 from Dutch surgeon Ferdinand De Jean, an amateur flute player. He commissioned Mozart to compose some concertos and quartets for the flute and agreed the princely sum of 200 florins. Neither side came out of the arrangement with any credit. Mozart, distracted by other compositions, procrastinated and did not completely fulfil the terms of the commission. Consequently De Jean gave Mozart only 96 florins instead of the full fee. 

For Ferdinand De Jean, Mozart did in fact compose two Flute Concertos, G major, KV 313 and D major, KV 314, and a pair of Quartets for Flute and Strings. A third flute concerto for De Jean was never written and the second was not an original work being a reworking of the Oboe Concerto in C Major, KV 314.

Composed in Mannheim the
Flute Quartet No. 1 in D major, KV 285 dated Christmas Eve 1777 is the most substantial of the four. This three movement score contains a pleasant blend of good spirits with an intriguing touch of pathos. Also from Mannheim in 1778 the Flute Quartet No. 2 in G major, KV 285a is cast in a two movement form and survives as a copy in the hand of a third party dated 1792. The attractive G major score is considered to be the least difficult of the four Flute Quartets containing subtle harmonisation and a wide range of colours. 

The Flute Quartet No. 3 in C major, KV Anh. 171 (KV 285b) is also thought to have been written in Mannheim, not in 1777-78 as first thought, but authenticated by musicologist Alan Tyson as a work from 1781-82. The score was probably not part of the commission for Ferdinand De Jean. Designed in two movements the C major Quartet endeavours to equalise the roles of the strings with the reasonably demanding flute part. It is now thought by Alan Tyson that the Flute Quartet No. 4 in A major, KV 298 was not composed in 1777 but in 1786-87, probably in Paris. The A major score is in the three movement form and proves to be a delightful and stylish work. 

Having listened to this EMEC live recording I can report flute playing of the highest standard. Dreier’s performances are characterful, often dazzling and exuberant, choosing tempi that seem just perfect. On the downside I am saddened to report difficulties with the sound quality that make this release impossible to recommend. The church acoustic feels as if the boxy and frail-sounding violin and viola have been recorded in a different room to that of the cello and the forwardly placed flute. The assured playing of the talented Sabine Dreier deserves much better than this and I look forward to hearing her record again soon. 

At fifty-three minutes this EMEC release is rather short measure. It does contain an uncredited eleventh track that was given at the live performance as an encore. The encore piece, I am informed, is actually a section of the final movement Rondeau of the Flute Quartet, KV 285 played from bar 82. Infuriatingly a sound technician has cut most of Sabine Dreier’s explanation of the encore to the audience. 

There are numerous accounts of Mozart’s four Flute Quartets in the catalogues and the competition is extremely fierce. The recordings most likely to be encountered include the releases from: the Grumiaux Trio with William Bennett on Philips; the Amsterdam Schönbrunn Ensemble on Channel Classics; the Emerson String Quartet with Carol Wincenc on Deutsche Grammophon; the Tokyo String Quartet with James Galway on RCA Victor Red Seal and Queyras; Poppen and Schlichtig with Emmanuel Pahud on EMI. My particular favourite is the disc of splendid accounts by the Nash Ensemble from 1988 at Rosslyn Hill Chapel, London. Featuring the constantly fresh and stylish flute playing of Philippa Davies this double set is my confident recommendation, at bargain price, on Virgin Veritas 5 61448 2 (c/w Trio, KV 498; Adagio and Rondo, KV 617; Quartet, KV 370 and Quintet, KV 407).  

Michael Cookson


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