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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART
Complete String Quartets, Volume 2
CD 1: B flat, K172 (1773) [12:21]; F, K168 (1773) [10:41]; B flat,
K458, 'Hunt' (1784) [22:17]; F major, K590 (1790) [23:16].
CD 2: A, K464 (1785) [31:34]; D minor, K173 (1773) [14:37]; A, K169
(1773) [11:37]; G, K156/K134b (1772) [10:36]; D, K155/K134a (1772)
CD 3: C, K465, 'Dissonance' (1785) [26:43]; G, K80/K73f
(1773/74) [11:29]; F, K158 (1772-73) [12:22]; C, K170 (1773) [12:33];
E flat, K160/K159a (1773) [9:04].
String Quartet (Peter Winograd, Laurie Carney (violins); Daniel
Avshalomov (viola(; David Gerber (cello)).
rec. SUNY Purchase, New York, February/November 1996, February/November
NI 2533-55 [3 CDs: 69:25 + 76:20 + 73:27]
Dominy Clements reviewed Volume 1 of the American Quartet's
tracing the recordings' provenance back to the original
Music Masters issue. I share my fellow reviewer's admiration
of the Hagen Quartet's Mozart, by the way. It is good to
see them now on the Nimbus label.
The early quartets of Mozart have certainly attained less currency
than the mid- and late ones, and yet there is much to delight
here. Violist Daniel Avshalomov's booklet notes identify
the influence of Sammartini. If the first movement of K172 is
lively and polished, the slow movement enters new expressive
realms. The American String Quartet is careful not to stretch
stylistic boundaries, thereby strengthening rather than weakening
the effect. The Menuetto, too, although brief (2:53)
includes little moments of counterpoint above its call of duty.
The F-major, K168 begins in the most civilised of fashions and
slowly invites in delicious glimpses of counterpoint. The first
movement is a mere 3:12, and gives the impression it could have
been much longer, such is the energy of its themes. The Andante's
emotion similarly seems to overflow its 2:54 duration, possibly
a result of the American Quartet's singular devotion to
the text they present. The finale is a fugue, full of vigour
- as Avshalomov puts it, 'Mozart's glee is evident and
it is our pleasure to communicate'.
The B flat Quartet, K458 - the so-called Hunt - is given
an extrovert, eminently contented performance. Avshalomov's
notes refer to the Menuetto as 'unusual in its usualness';
the American String Quartet makes it sound genteel, gentle and
utterly charming. It provides the perfect foil for the sophistications
of the extended Adagio - at 7:05, the longest movement
of the quartet. This movement includes moments of exquisite
hush, carried superbly in the ambient space of this fine recording.
Most importantly the American Quartet carries the concentration
superbly. The finale offers an opportunity for that concentration
to dissipate in Mozart's wonderful free-flow invention.
Mozart's last quartet, the B flat, K590, is given a tremendous
performance here. The recording is marvellously clear but eschews
lushness so that Mozart's clarity of linear thought shines
through. The American Quartet delights in Mozart's fragmenting
of theme as much as in the long, cantabile lines of the first
movement. The Andante is a dream, perfectly paced in
two. Avshalomov's notes debate the pros and cons of the
markings of 'Allegretto' - MS - and 'Andante'
- first edition. Avshalomov claims that, rightly done, the finale
should 'project a jazzy ease'; it is easy to hear what
he means here. The very close is expertly negotiated, with just
the right amount of wit.
Although the first disc included two later quartets side-by-side
(K458 and K590), placing them last in the playing order, each
of the remaining discs offers a single later quartet as a starter,
followed by a succession of four earlier works.
The A major, K464 is a work of much serenity and inner confidence,
and includes a long (13:13) set of variations as its slow movement.
The first movement, in triple meter, is a compositional statement
of muted virtuosity, but it is the variations that impress.
The American Quartet gives them full due, honouring their drama
and the internalised conflict. Only in the final bars is there
a question mark, that of a certain dryness accorded by the recording.
The finale, though, is unalloyed delight, and finds each member
of the American Quartet revelling in Mozart's gossamer web.
Interesting that K173, the last of the 13 quartets of Mozart's
youth, is the most complex. The key of D minor was to be a significant
one for Mozart, and certainly the first movement here is rich
textured and deep in intent. The slight second movement - with
the tempo marking 'Andantino grazioso' in parentheses
- is outflanked here by the more severe of intent Menuetto;
certainly the American Quartet's performance is highly resolute.
The severity is continued in the determined counterpoint of
the finale, tempered by Mozart's delightful, shadowy use
of a marvellously slithery line - which actually ends the piece
- and on an altered plagal cadence!
The next quartet, K169, plays less with depth, more with life.
The American Quartet grant it huge joy, clearly enjoying themselves.
The Andante has no pretensions - although it contains
plains of contrast - while the Menuetto is as charming
as they come. The theme of the finale is almost bumpkin-like
in its rusticity, and it is beautifully carried off here.
Mozart was a mere 16 years old when he penned K156 - some would
possibly argue that was quite old for him. The first movement's
theme, though, is almost a bright version of the 'Lachrymosa'
from the Requiem, and the Adagio, as the notes
claim, is indeed beyond the composer's years; maybe only
its brevity (3:52) reminding us of his youth. It is exquisitely
delivered here - especially from the sweet-toned first violin,
Peter Winograd. It is the finale that is magnificently inventive,
though; if you ever need to demonstrate to someone why they
should listen to some of Mozart's earlier quartets, this
would be a good track to play them. Textures dance but are thinned
down; the American Quartet implies a Mendelssohnian lightness.
These six early works, known sometimes as the 'Milanese'
quartets, use Boccherini as a model. And finally for Disc 2,
the D major, K155, the highlight of which is surely the magnificently
simple Andante. Here, the duration (2:54) does not imply
the slight; rather, Mozart fits a wealth of inspiration into
a perplexingly short time-span, a span he seems to somehow magically
extend. Even the expressive shadings of the ever-so-brief finale
elevate the music to a higher realm.
The so-called Dissonance Quartet finds the American Quartet
in fresh form for the Allegro, a freshness all the more
effective thanks to the shadowy explorations of the famous Introduction
which gives the quartet its nickname. The civility and élan
are both thrown into high relief by the chromaticisms that preceded
them. The Andante cantabile is a joy in its sheer concentration
and in its unwillingness to settle, while the finale's twists
and turns run their path intriguingly. Perhaps the fortes
could have a little more energy about them, but this remains
a highly impressive reading. If I still prefer the Hagen Quartet
on DG, the American Quartet runs a close second.
Interesting how the very first quartet (K80) begins with a lovely
slow movement (Adagio). The innocence and the vim of
the brief ensuing Allegro is charming and the way the
quartet ends is wonderfully done. The brief F major, K158 is
a slight affair. There are no pretensions whatsoever to the
opening Allegro (all 2:54 of it). All credit to the American
Quartet for honouring the work's modest dimensions and not
crediting it with ambition it simply does not possess. The ensuing
Andante un poco Allegretto is not quite as modest, introducing
at least a sprinkling of counterpoint before the finale, a Tempo
di Menuetto speaks in a language of secrets. In this, the
longest and most enigmatic movement, the American Quartet captures
the very essence of discovery.
The C major, K170, begins with an Andante as opposed
to an Allegro - this is a delightful set of variations
on an asymmetrical, 17-bar theme. The robustness of the Menuetto
seems to follow on naturally, and the American Quartet finds
the delicate heart of the Un poco Adagio with remarkable
ease. The only problem is that one expects the slow movement
to last significantly longer than it does.
Finally, the E-flat, K160, another slight work but one of great
integrity. Perfectly proportioned within its own remit, this
is a delightful piece that receives, in turn, a delightful performance.
It is entirely fitting that a box of such dedicated, vigorous
performances should end with a vigorously energetic movement
like this one.
The recording is open and clear. This set won't, in the
final analysis, rate first in my affections, but it has nevertheless
earned a respected place there. Well worth investigating.
see also review
by Brian Wilson
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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