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Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
String Quartets, Op. 76
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756–1791)
String Quintets No. 2 & 3
Oboe (Flute) Quartet in F major, K370 (368b)
Clarinet Quintet in A major, K581
Flute Quartets
Tokyo String Quartet
Pinchas Zukerman (viola)
James Galway (flute)
Richard Stoltzman (clarinet)
rec. 1978-1991
RCA RED SEAL 88875 124582 [5 CDs: 307:39]

Founded in 1969 at the Juilliard School of Music, the Tokyo Quartet have amassed a fine and distinguished array of recordings for various labels, many enthusiastically received. In 2013 they disbanded after their longest serving members, the second violin Kikuei Ikeda and viola Kazuhide Isomura, decided to retire. Their final concert took place in Norfolk, Connecticut on 6 July 2013. For the last ten years of their existence, they were contracted to the Harmonia Mundi stable. Over the years they had some changes of personnel, including five first violins, two second violins and two cellists. Kazuhide Isomura, the violist, stayed the full course. What we have here are the Haydn and Mozart recordings which they set down for RCA between 1978 and 1991.

Those, like myself, who treasure the distinguished Op. 50 ‘Prussian Quartets’ by Haydn the Tokyos recorded for DG in the mid-seventies, will find the Op. 76 set we have here equally compelling. This cycle was recorded between 1978 and 1979, and the same polished virtuosity informs these performances. I always feel that this quartet play, not only instinctively, but with a sense of freshness and spontaneity, giving a feel of music-making evolving. Tempo choices seem just right, and phrasing and dynamics emerge naturally and in an unforced way. Intonation is pristine, and the music is underpinned with rhythmic incisiveness. I would single out No. 4 of the set ‘Sunrise’, where the opening chord of the first movement has a sustained glow, over which the first violin evokes the rising of the sun. Eventually, the sunlight emerges in all its glory. No performance has ever captured this event as vividly as the Tokyo Quartet do here. The finale has a charming lilt, and everything is joy and exuberance.

Mozart’s four Flute Quartets display a wealth of ingenuity and invention, exploiting the instrument’s tonal possibilities to the full, and are fashioned in a conversational style. As entertainment pieces they fit into the category of ‘divertimento’. The flautist is given the opportunity to shine and display his or her technical virtuosity. A comfortable balance is struck between Galway and the quartet, and there is plenty to admire in these affable and sunny readings. The Oboe Quartet, K370 is an immensely attractive work, and has been arranged by Galway for flute. The performance has all the endearing features found in the flute quartets, namely optimism and elegance in the outer movements, and a contrasting haunting sadness in the Adagio. However, I have to say that I prefer the oboe’s timbre in this work. The Tokyo Quartet are partnered by Richard Stoltzman for the 1991 recording of the Clarinet Quintet. His expressive playing is impressive by any standards, and he acquits himself admirably, putting plenty of personality into his performance. The slow movement is particularly alluring, made all the more captivating by the attractive bloom to the sound. Pinchas Zukerman on viola joins the Tokyos for two of Mozart’s string quintets – K515 and K516. I was particularly struck by how well all five players blend; the warmth and commitment of the playing recalls to mind the visionary interpretations of Arthur Grumiaux and co.

Sony are to be commended for the release of this 5 CD set at super budget price in their ‘no frills’ Classical Masters Series. OK, there are no booklet notes, but this is a small price to pay for a collection of stunning performances in superb sound. This set certainly provides good value for money.

Stephen Greenbank
Full track-listing
CD 1 [65:15]
Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
String Quartets, Op. 76 Nos. 1-3
CD 2 [65:04]
String Quartets, Op. 76 Nos. 4-6
CD 3 [74:27]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756–1791)
String Quintet No. 2 in C major, K515*
String Quintet No. 3 in G minor, K516*
CD 4 [49:12]
Oboe (Flute) Quartet in F major, K370 (368b)
Clarinet Quintet in A major, K581
CD 5 [53:41]
4 Flute Quartets
Tokyo String Quartet
Pinchas Zukerman (viola)*
James Galway (flute)
Richard Stoltzman (clarinet)



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