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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Oboe Quartet in F, K. 370 (1781) [17:27]
Horn Quintet in E flat, K. 407 (1782?) [18:41]
Quintet movement in F, K. 580b (posth., 1780s?; arr. Duncan Druce) [12:48]
Quintet for piano and wind in E flat, K. 452 (1784) [25:03]
The Gaudier Ensemble
rec. Rosslyn Hill Chapel, London, February 2001
HHYPERION HELIOS CDH55390 [74:00]
What beautiful playing. What gorgeous sound. And -- not to forget the obvious -- what wonderful music.
 
The Oboe Quartet and the Horn Quintet, with each wind instrument in play opposite the strings, are colourful, giving them appeal for neophytes whose tastes might run more to Romantic ardor than Classical rigor (as mine once did). Fortunately, they still wear well with experienced listeners (as I am now).
 
The Oboe Quartet is particularly fetching here. Douglas Boyd's oboe tone is firm and evenly produced, with just a hint of woolliness. His control is impeccable -- note the diminuendo at 1:45, changing dynamic and mood in mid- scale -- and his phrasing is shapely.
 
The Horn Quintet encompasses diverse moods: the proclamatory opening chords immediately yield to lyricism, and the Allegro finale is downright playful. Jonathan Williams plays well, though definition is slightly blunted in the outer movements, where the rhythms don't feel strongly enough grounded.
 
A fair amount of common-sense conjecture was apparently required to get the F major quintet movement, left incomplete at Mozart's death, into performable shape. There are three strings, and a rather interesting wind pairing: a clarinet in C, brighter in tone than the standard B-flat clarinet; and a basset horn, a similar instrument with a lower extension and a correspondingly darker timbre. A number of "split-register" passages -- think of the Trio of Symphony 39, writ larger -- exploit that colour contrast, yet the two instruments match nicely when they're duetting in thirds. It's the best of both worlds.
 
The K. 452 quintet is the most substantial, "serious" work on the program. Its outer movements distill grace and proportion; the central Larghetto, simple and lyrical, gains in concentrated intensity as it moves briefly into the minor.
 
As suggested, the Gaudier Ensemble members, heard in various groupings, play sensitively and with polish. In the first three works, the closely recorded winds have a sumptuous presence, to the point where you might find a volume cut helpful. They sound more natural in K. 452, where they're recorded at a slight remove, though here the shallowish piano tone disappoints. Still, especially at midprice, this earns a warm recommendation, particularly if, for some reason, you don't want the Beethoven wind quintet, with which Mozart's normally comes in harness.
 
Stephen Francis Vasta
Stephen Francis Vasta is a New York-based conductor, coach, and journalist.