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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Preludes & Fugues after Bach, K404a (1782) [24:53]
Divertimento for String Trio in E flat major, K563 (1788) [48:41]
Jonathan Crow (violin)
Douglas McNabney (viola)
Matt Haimovitz (cello)
rec. Église St Augustin, Quebec, 2005
PENTATONE PTC5186714 SACD [73:31]

Among the factors that influenced Mozart’s musical development during the decade of his life in Vienna, from 1781 until his death, was his interest in Baroque music, and in particular that era’s two greatest masters, Bach and Handel. This interest was fuelled by his friendship with Baron Gottfried van Swieten, who had formerly been the Austrian ambassador at the Prussian court at Potsdam, where he had developed his own enthusiasm for this music, which he brought with him when he returned to Vienna. Mozart made his own performing versions of some of Handel’s oratorios, including Messiah, and he also made arrangements for strings of several of the 48 Preludes and Fugues from Bach’s Well-Tempered Klavier. Three of these are recorded here: No. 8 from Book 1, and Nos. 13 and 14 from Book 2.

These performances are nicely judged, and gain from their introduction in the accompanying booklet by some thoughtful comments from the cellist Matt Haimovitz. As such these Bach arrangements make an ideal foil to the main work featured here, the extraordinary Divertimento, K563.

The term ‘divertimento’ normally refers to a lightweight composition, literally a ‘diversion’, but such is decidedly not the case here, since this is a substantial composition in every way. It is true that the sequence of movements is conventional enough, including the usual pair of minuets, but the twenty-minute combined span of the first two movements reveals a working-through of the musical material that is substantial in its intellectual command as well as its duration. Thus the full length of the whole six-movement sequence is some fifty minutes, making this Mozart’s longest chamber music composition.

The performers rise to the demanding challenge of this substantial score and can hold their own alongside some more famous musicians, including Gidon Kremer, Kim Kashkashian and Yo-Yo Ma on Sony, the Leopold String Trio on Hyperion and the Grumiaux Trio on Decca (the latter now available only as a download). The quality of the playing is exemplary, as is the sense of ensemble, revealing a close attention to detail in matters of phrasing and dynamic range. Of course, given the fluency of Mozart’s musical style, these features are self-effacing rather than ostentatious, but they should not be taken for granted.

Terry Barfoot

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