Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
The Prussian Quartets
String Quartet No. 21 in D major ("Prussian 1"), K. 575 (23:20)
String Quartet No. 22 in B flat major ("Prussian 2"), K. 589 (23:22)
String Quartet No. 23 in F major ("Prussian 3"), K. 590 (27:33)
Emerson Quartet
rec. January, 2011, LeFrak Hall, Queens College, New York
SONY CLASSICAL 88697 935982 [74:00]
 
Mozartís three Prussian Quartets are so named because they were commissioned by Friedrich Wilhelm II, the King of Prussia. Composed in 1789-90, they feature a focus on the cello part, an instrument that the king played. In his employ was one of the finest cellists of the time, Jean-Pierre Deport, so Mozart had to highlight the cello as much as possible without unbalancing the works. These were also Mozartís three last string quartets. The King actually commissioned six string quartets, as well as six piano sonatas for Queen Friederike, but Mozart was unable to complete this commission.
 
In this, the Emerson Quartetís first recording for Sony, they show their usual perfection in tone and balance. Their performances show an attention to detail in dynamics that helps bring out the subtleties in these works, and especially let the cello come through clearly. This is apparent notably in the minuet of quartet K. 575, where slight changes in dynamics accompany the different phrases in the first section. Or in the allegro of the quartet K. 589, where the cascading notes of the two violins and viola play over the pulses of the cello. There is a sense of balance among the instruments in these works that makes this disc a sonic delight.
 
The quality of the recording is impeccable. One can picture the quartet on stage in a straight line, as they generally perform (instead of sitting in a semi-circle). Each instrument - from left to right, it is the two violins, then cello, then viola - stands out on its own, yet meshes together in a rich, luscious sound. There is no excess of reverb, and the miking is ideal for a string quartet. Whether on speakers or headphones, there is a wonderfully realistic soundstage.
 
This is a fine recording of Mozartís last string quartets, and one that offers excellent sound, by one of the finest string quartets playing today.
 
 
Kirk McElhearn writes about more than just music on his blog Kirkville (http://www.mcelhearn.com).
 
A fine recording of Mozartís last string quartets, and one that offers excellent sound, by one of the finest string quartets playing today.