Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Homage: the Six Quartets Dedicated to Haydn
String Quartet in G, K.387 [29:48]
String Quartet in D minor, K.421 [31:56]
String Quartet in E flat, K.428 [28:50]
String Quartet in B flat, K.458 [27:09]
String Quartet in A, K.464 [32:40]
String Quartet in C, K.465 [33:33]
Alexander String Quartet (Zakarias Grafilo (violin), Frederick Lifsitz (violin), Paul Yarbrough (viola), Sandy Wilson (cello))
rec. American Academy of Arts & Letters, New York, 5-7 October, 14-16 November 2003, and 20-22 January 2004. DDD
FOGHORN CLASSICS CD-1985 [3 CDs: 61:49 + 56:05 + 66:16]
This triple-CD set was originally published in 2004, but has recently been reissued, presumably to coincide with the Alexander String Quartet's newest CD, a not altogether inspiring collection of not altogether inspired arrangements of music by George Gerswhin and Jerome Kern - see review.
The ASQ cannot go wrong with Mozart, though, and they do not. This is Mozart arguably at his finest in six works of sparkling imagination, style and technique, inspired by the six Quartets op.33 with which Haydn had recently opened new musical doors. Three years separate the first and last, an indication that Mozart spent a for him unusually long time working on them, a fact he confirmed in his dedication to Haydn when they were published in 1785.
In the last few years the ASQ have made many recordings for Foghorn Classics - to date there have been some 15 releases, including several double- or triple-discs. Their most important recordings have been the complete Quartets both of Beethoven, twice - with the current line-up for Foghorn on CD-2005 (review) and with three-quarters the same ensemble in the Nineties for Arte Nova Classics (review) - and of Shostakovich, on Foghorn again (CD-1988, CD-1991). Needless to say, each cycle met with considerable acclaim.
Individually, Mozart's 'Haydn' Quartets have been recorded countless times by every string quartet worth its salt. More importantly, there have also been numerous cycles of the six together, with or without additional works, and some of these are indisputably better deals than this Foghorn, which is dear by any standards - the equivalent, in fact, of three full-price singles. To cite merely top-rankers: the Alban Berg Quartet (7 CDs, EMI 5855812; alternatively, 4 CDs on Teldec 995495), the Emerson Quartet (3 CDs, DG 431797), the Melos Quartet (3 CDs, DG 415870), the Hagen Quartet (3 CDs, DG 471024 or 7 CDs, DG 000649302), the Quatuor Ysa˙e (3 CDs, Decca 473963), the Amadeus Quartet (6 CDs, DG 001408002), the Talich Quartet (7 CDs, La Dolce Vita 100), the Chilingirian Quartet (5 CDs, CRD 5005), the Franz Schubert Quartet (5 CDs, Nimbus NI1778) and the Guarneri Quartet newly reissued on RCA (6 CDs, 1918042). A few of these boxed sets are available at half the Foghorn price or less. On the other hand, the Takács Quartet on Hungaroton (HCD 12983-85) play only the 'Haydn' Quartets at a price that is more eye-watering still than Foghorn's, and for all its brilliance, the Quartetto Italiano boxed set (8 CDs, Philips 416419) will likely be out of most mortals' price range.
Financial differentials aside, all the readings above have their own many strong points, with perceived weaknesses often coming down to aesthetics. The ASQ - who last year celebrated their 30th anniversary - are hard to fault in any regard: their professionalism is immaculate, their ensemble experience huge and telling, their instrument mastery practically faultless. They exhibit a Classical elegance and textural clarity that Haydn would surely have approved of. For those not on a budget, this is a safe purchase that will repay the outlay with hours of repeated pleasure.
Sound quality is very good indeed, as it invariably is at the AAAL: intimate, yet spacious, with all four instruments beautifully defined. The accompanying booklet is excellent - notes by Eric Bromberger provide just the right amount of detail for everyman and expert alike, though in English only.
Rather wantonly, each CD ends with a literal foghorn. These are thankfully on separate tracks!
Collected reviews and contact at artmusicreviews.co.uk
Immaculate professionalism … huge and telling ensemble experience, instrumental mastery practically faultless … Classical elegance and textural clarity.