Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Quartets
No. 1 in G minor, K478 (1785) [29:06]
No. 2 in E flat, K493 (1786) [37:33]
The Nash Ensemble (Marianne Thorsen (violin); Lawrence Power (viola); Paul Watkins (cello); Ian Brown (piano))
rec. Champs Hill, Sussex, 2006 (K478) and 2005 (K493)
ALTO ALC1304 [66:40]
Coming in at super-budget price, this is a real bargain. The original recording was on ASV, but, while close, suffers from none of the astringency so often encountered in sonics from that company. The performances are everything one might hope for from the Nash Ensemble. This is chamber communication between players of the highest level and they are really attuned to Mozartean style - pure delight.

The G minor, K478, finds pianist Ian Brown generating a beautiful tone from his instrument. His cantabile is an absolute joy; lines between piano and strings reveal playful interplay. That said, it is a close-run thing that the music of the first movement development section does not, in the end, lose impetus. One might reasonably argue that the Nash Ensemble's tempo for the central Andante is closer to an Adagio, yet the beauty of the playing is such that one gets wrapped up in the interior emotions on display anyway. It is in fact the ensemble's gentle way with the finale's phrasing that sets this performance apart. This is the epitome of style, and with perfect trills giving us the icing on top of the cake. The joyous nature of the conclusion emerges as the natural outcome of the piece.

The first movement of K493 brings with it a gorgeous sense of structure, while honouring contrasts between sections. There is tenderness aplenty here, and it should be noted that the Nash Ensemble does not mind including slowings as part of their expressive vocabulary. The central Larghetto offers chamber playing of the top rank, just bear in mind that many will find this tempo slow. The real gem here is the finale, which offers jauntiness but with occluded passages that offer valuable contrast. There is also real wit in the violin and piano interactions.

There is stiff opposition; these performances sit alongside rather than displace, for example, Clifford Curzon and the Amadeus Quartet on Decca (recorded September 1952) or in the G minor, Georg Szell, on the piano this time, with members of the Budapest Quartet (CBS, recorded 1946). None of these detract from the fact that the present Nash Ensemble offers a procession of delights.

Colin Clarke

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