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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
The Six 'Haydn' Quartets
String Quartet No. 14 in G Major, K. 387 [34:44]
String Quartet No. 15 in D Minor, K. 421 [33:14]
String Quartet No. 17 in B-Flat Major, K. 458, "Hunt" [33:08]
String Quartet No. 16 in E-Flat Major, K. 428 [34:33]
String Quartet No. 18 in A Major, K. 464 [37:50]
String Quartet No. 19 in C Major, K. 465, "Dissonance" [38:58]
Quatuor Cambini-Paris (Julien Chauvin, violin; Karine Croquenoy, violin; Pierre-Éric Nimylowycz, viola; Atsushi Sakaï, cello.)
rec. January 2013, Théâtre Impériale de Compiègne, (K428 and K458), December 2013-January 2014, Galerie Dorée, Banque de France, Paris, France.
AMBROISIE AM213 [3 CDs 3:32:27]

The Quatuor Cambini-Paris plays on period instruments, and takes its name from one of Mozart’s contemporaries, composer and violinist Giuseppe Maria Cambini. It was founded in 2007, is based in Paris, and sounds very expert indeed on the evidence of this recording. The leader Julien Chauvin is the co-founder and solo violin of Le Cercle de l’Harmonie and members of the quartet have played in other leading orchestral groups on the continent, such as Les Talens Lyriques, and L’Orchestre des Champs-Elysées. The quartet was known hitherto for rediscovering rare works from the classical and romantic repertoire, such as their disc of Hyacinthe Jadin on the Timpani label, and of a group of Félicien David’s string quartets on Naïve/Ambroisie. With this new set on Ambroisie, they move right into the mainstream, with Mozart’s Six Quartets, dedicated to Haydn.

These great works were written between 1782 and 1785 and Mozart himself said they were “the fruits of a long and laborious effort.” So it is not surprising that they are unprecedented up to then in their ambitious writing, contrapuntal complexity and harmonic audacity. The first of the set, the G major K.387, has always struck me as the most attractive and immediately approachable, and certainly that is how it sounds here. The dynamic contrasts in these interpretations are never aggressive, and at times they are maybe a bit smoothed out, and more contrast would have been welcome when the f:s and p:s alternate rapidly as in the Allegro vivace opening of K.458 – and where the vivace might have been a bit more, well, vivacious. But it is hard to fault these performances otherwise, as they sound so committed. There is plenty of skill and dexterity on display too, as in the scampering semiquaver passages from violins and viola in the finale of K.428.

This is delightful, engaging quartet playing, and the very sound of the gut strings, lighter baroque bows (and the lack of vibrato) itself give much pleasure. One slightly unusual feature of the set is the placing, on disc two, of K.458 ahead of K.428, which it seems was Mozart’s preference – an interview with the players in the booklet gives the musicological details. In fact the booklet is unusually full and informative on the music and the recording project, as well as on the musicians themselves. The set has very good sound, with an appealing resonance that does not inhibit clarity. There is no difference between the two recording venues in these respects that I could discern.

The main competition on period instruments is probably still from the Quatuor Mosaïques, whose ‘Haydn’ quartets were recorded back in 1990-1993, and still sound exemplary. Tempi are very similar, with each work being within a minute of the Cambini timings, except that the Mosaïque take two minutes more over the ‘Hunt’ quartet, which hardly registers, when one is actually listening to a work lasting 33 minutes. They are more poised perhaps than the Cambini, and with more rococo elegance. The Cambini, though, does rather more with the music at times, which one or two reviewers have lamented. But offering their own interpretation is one reason musicians still play and record frequently performed works, and as long as they do not offend against the score, this should normally be welcomed. These Cambini-Paris accounts are all very fine, and different enough from those of the Quatuor Mosaïque to make a valuable supplement to that long established version.

Roy Westbrook



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