Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756–1791)
Divertimento for string trio in E flat major K563 [46:22]
Six Fugues with Slow Preludes K404a – No IV in F major [9:44]; No V in E flat major [7:32]
The Hermitage String Trio (Boris Garlitky (violin), Alexander Zemtsov (viola), Leonid Gorokhov (cello))
rec. Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk 28-30 June 2010
CHANDOS CHAN 10635 [63:40]

Compared with the number of string quartets known to most music-lovers there is a pitiful shortage of string trios. Admittedly the number of out and out masterpieces for this combination unlike the string quartet can scarcely be said to reach double figures. Right at the top of this very short list, however, comes Mozart’s Divertimento K563. It is an astonishing work, not just on account of the amazing compositional skill shown by Mozart but above all on account of its indescribable beauty, profundity and varied character. You might expect to regret that only three instruments are playing, but each movement is so packed with incident that on the contrary at times there seem to be almost too much happening for the listener to take in.

Despite this, and despite the number of distinguished groups who have recorded the work, many music-lovers whose collections contain versions, even contain many contrasting versions, of other masterpieces by Mozart lack a version of this Divertimento. If they are put off by its length or sparse instrumentation this would be a mistake. It is a unique work in Mozart’s output, best enjoyed as part of a morning or afternoon concert in some location where it can be properly savoured rather than being simply one item in a longer concert. In many ways it resembles the “Gran Partita” Serenade K361 which seems at last to have taken its rightful place as one of the composer’s best works. I hope that this disc will help to do this for K563.

It is obvious that the Hermitage String Trio have spent much time preparing this performance. They are alive to the work’s changing character, even when the notes on the page look superficially similar. This does lead them at times to what might be regarded as excessive point-making but better that than too bland an approach. Their ensemble is impeccable and their sense of the range of expression that the music encompasses is admirable. They are generous with repeats but regrettably take little advantage of the chance that gives to emphasise different aspects of the music when repeated. Speeds are well judged and the recording is clear and close but not excessively so.

It is usually believed that Mozart produced his string quartet arrangements of Bach fugues (K405) for Baron van Sweiten. The authorships of the set of six Preludes and Fugues for string trio K404a is however uncertain although it seems likely that they too were intended for the Baron. Nos. IV and V are both arrangements of music by Bach from the Organ Sonatas and the Art of Fugue. There is nothing in them that would obviously preclude them being by Mozart and they make a suitable contrasting setting for the main work on the disc. Sometimes listening at home to large symphonic or choral works in a domestic context one has a feeling of mismatch between the music and the occasion. Listening to this disc in contrast feels absolutely right for that context, and closing one’s eyes one can imagine oneself like Michael Kelly on the famous occasion when he attended a quartet evening with Mozart and Haydn among the players. If you do not have a recording of the Divertimento already here is an ideal opportunity to do so, and I am sure that in so doing many hours of supreme musical pleasure are guaranteed.

John Sheppard

Many hours of supreme musical pleasure are guaranteed.