Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 - 1791)
Complete Chamber Music for Strings
see end of review for track listing 
rec. 1989 - 2006, The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and UK. DDD
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 94370 [12 CDs: 450:20]

This is handsomely produced with an extended, informative booklet essay by Dr David Doughty. It is housed in twelve cardboard sleeves with track and recording details on the reverse of each. It can be greeted as yet another welcome bargain issue from the Brilliant label and it offers virtually all Mozart’s chamber music for strings in a handy “clamshell” box.
That enthusiastic reception must have one major caveat: as far as I am concerned, the first two discs are useless and I shall not be playing them again. These are the two Duos and two Trios. Played here harshly and inexpressively on original instruments with a minimum of vibrato or portamento, they make for dour listening. Comparison with a favourite double Philips Duo issue with the Grumiaux Trio and Arrigo Pellicia reveals them to be sadly inert. The suspended harmonies come across plaintively on the instruments used here but the long melodic lines sag and bulge and there is no sense of the rhapsody Grumiaux conveys. K266 is a funereal parody of Grumiaux’s recording, with no inner life and little sense of phrasing. Under Grumiaux, the String Trio Divertimento sings; he caresses the opening descending octave and the music is all light and wit; here on Brilliant all is flat and muddy, the strings squall and whine. Oddly, K423 is played at what is presumably Baroque pitch, about a semitone down from modern pitch, whereas K424 as recorded is in a slightly flat modern B flat. The effect is jarring and the lack of brightness compounds the stolidity of the performances. As a final clincher, the Philips set offers the Six Preludes and Fugues for Violin, Viola and Cello, K404a, not found on Brilliant. It’s a bargain twofer that belongs in the collection of every Mozart-lover.
Having comprehensively trashed those two first discs, I need to emphasise that the other ten offer nothing but sweetness and light. The twelve early quartets are beautifully played by the Sonare Quartet. They do not offer the profundity of Mozart’s mature works but they are insouciant, ebullient, inventive and often complex, with lots of flowing triple time and an increasingly confident and assertive tone as Mozart progressively experiments with form. The Andantes frequently mine a rich vein of sweet melancholy and there are surprising moments of sombre reflection. There is much which is striking and substantial, such as the poise and gravity of the Adagio in K156 or the Allegro in K168, with its fugue, counterpoint, variations and proleptic lyricism. A bonus on CD9 is the very early, slightly stilted but nonetheless elegant K80. The first three movements were written by a fourteen-year-old Mozart with an appreciably more confident Rondo added four years later. It is played expressively by the Sharon Quartet in their only contribution to this set.
The mature quartets - the six Haydn Quartets and the four last great works - are all played by the Franz Schubert Quartet. I had not heard them before but I find them ideal: free, lyrical and uninhibited with an exceptionally warm sound. While I admire the restrained and refinement of the Guarneri, for example, I marginally prefer the directness of the Franz Schubert to distinguished competition from such as the Takács, Cleveland or Eder Quartets. Despite their robust emotionalism they also capture all the mystery and drama of the opening Allegro moderato of No 15, employing heavy accents in a manner which is not perhaps subtle but still very arresting. They find real propulsion and urgency in the Andante of No. 16, possibly at the expense of the more reflective mood others uncover and negotiate “The Hunt” with both vivacity and grace. The “Dissonance” will be a crucial test for many listeners and I find it to be almost as fine as any I have heard, the still enigma of its opening perhaps slightly compromised by the robustness inherent in both the recorded sound and the quartet’s own style. I find that the glamorous sound and slight reverberation given to the Franz Schubert Quartet ideally suits their generous tone, whereas too many other recordings sound flat by comparison; it also particularly enhances their judicious application of subtly graded dynamics - a virtue especially noticeable in K575.
The six Quintets are shared between the Chilingirian and the Orlando Quartets each respectively accompanied by a distinguished, lady Japanese violist. The early K174, here given in both its first, abandoned form and in its final version, proves to be a sophisticated work; the other five are indisputably late masterpieces.
Unusually, all the first movement repeats are played here but I do not find them tedious when Mozart’s eternally inventive themes are so expressively revisited. In K515, the Orlando Quartet fully justifies the inclusion of the repeat in the opening Allegro of the ascending octave first subject by playing it to memorable effect on its second appearance, with more astringency than the Takács. They also differ from the Takács by opting to put the Menuetto third rather than second and manage to deliver the music with more free-flowing verve, whereas the Takács can sound simply rushed or hard-driven. To take another example of the general “rightness” of these performances, the magical “con sordino” Adagio of K516 is wonderfully plangent and soulful.
The disappointing first two discs notwithstanding, this is an outstanding bargain for anyone wanting the complete quartets and quintets - and the Philips Duo set is easily acquired as an essential supplement.  

Ralph Moore 

An outstanding bargain for anyone wanting the complete quartets and quintets.

Track listing & performance details
CD 1 [46:57]
Duo for Violin and Viola no 2 in B major, K 424
Duo for Violin and Viola no 1 in G major, K 423
Trio for 2 Violins and Double Bass in B flat major, K 266 (271f)
CD 2 [50:58]
Trio for Violin, Viola and Cello in E flat major, K 563
CD 3 [67:59]
Quartet for Strings no 2 in D major, K 155 (134a)
Quartet for Strings no 3 in G major, K 156 (134b)
Quartet for Strings no 4 in C major, K 157
Quartet for Strings no 5 in F major, K 158
Quartet for Strings no 6 in B flat major, K 159
Quartet for Strings no 7 in E flat major, K 160 (159a)
CD 4 [78:32]
Quartet for Strings no 8 in F major, K 168
Quartet for Strings no 9 in A major, K 169
Quartet for Strings no 10 in C major, K 170
Quartet for Strings no 11 in E flat major, K 171
Quartet for Strings no 12 in B flat major, K 172
Quartet for Strings no 13 in D minor, K 173
CD 5 [59:47]
Quartet for Strings no 14 in G major, K 387 "Spring"
Quartet for Strings no 15 in D minor, K 421 (417b)
CD 6 [57:42]
Quartet for Strings no 16 in E flat major, K 428 (421b)
Quartet for Strings no 17 in B flat major, K 458 "Hunt"
CD 7 [66:38]
Quartet for Strings no 18 in A major, K 464
Quartet for Strings no 19 in C major, K 465 "Dissonance"
CD 8 [53:43]
Quartet for Strings no 20 in D major, K 499 "Hoffmeister"
Quartet for Strings no 21 in D major, K 575
CD 9 [67:40]
Quartet for Strings no 22 in B flat major, K 589
Quartet for Strings no 23 in F major, K 590
Quartet for Strings no 1 in G major, K 80
CD 10 [59:09]
Quintet for 2 Violins, 2 Violas and Cello no 1 in B flat major, K 174
Quintet for 2 Violins, 2 Violas and Cello no 2 in C minor, K 406 (516b)
CD 11 [71:15]
Quintet for 2 Violins, 2 Violas and Cello no 3 in C major, K 515
Quintet for 2 Violins, 2 Violas and Cello no 5 in D major, K 593
CD 12 [71:00]
Quintet for 2 Violins, 2 Violas and Cello no 4 in G minor, K 516
Quintet for 2 Violins, 2 Violas and Cello no 6 in E flat major, K 614
CD 1:
Duos: Rémy Baudet (violin); Marten Boeken (viola); Trio: Rémy Baudet (violin); Staas Swierstra (violin); Rainer Zipperling (cello). Rec. Dec 2001, Maria Minor, Utrecht, The Netherlands.
CD 2:
François Fernandez (violin);  Ryo Terakado (viola); Rainer Zipperling (cello). Rec. January 1991, Filosofisch Theologisch College van de Societeit van Jezus V.Z.W Heverlee, Belgium.
CDs 3-4:
Sonare Quartet: Jacek Klimkiewicz (violin I); Laurentius Bonitz (violin II); Hideko Kobayashi (viola); Emil Klein (cello). Rec. July 1989, Orangerie, Darmstadt (CD 3); 8-12 April, 1991, Zentralsaal, Bamberg, Germany (CD 4).
CDs 5-9:
Franz Schubert Quartet of Vienna: Florian Zwiauer (violin I); Helge Rosenkranz (violin II); Hartmut Pascher (cello); Vincent Stadlmair (cello). Rec. 1994, Concert Hall, Nimbus Foundation, Monmouth, UK.
CD 9 (K 80):
Sharon Quartet: Gil Sharon (violin I); Rodica Ciocoiu (violin II); Ron Ephrat (viola); Alexander Hülshoff (cello).
CD 10:
The Chilingirian Quartet: Levon Chilingirian (violin I); Charles Stewart (violin II); Susie Mészáros (viola); Philip De Groote (cello); with Yuko Inoue (cello). Rec. 8-10 November, 2005 (K174); 30 January - 1 February 2006 (K406), Potton Hall, Westleton, Suffolk, UK.
CDs 11-12:
Orlando Quartet: John Harding (violin I); Heinz Oberdorfer (violin II); Ferdinand Erblich (viola); Stefan Metz (cello); with Nobuko Imai (viola). Rec. 11-13 December 1989, Oud Katholieke Kerk, Delft, The Netherlands.