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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 – 1791)
Piano Quartet in E Flat Major K.493 [36:26]
Piano Quartet in G Minor K.478 [30:04]
Kuijken Piano Quartet (Veronica Kuijken (fortepiano), Sigiswald Kuijken (violin), Sara Kuijken (viola), Michel Boulanger (cello))
rec. 2016, Paterskerk Tielt, Belgium

The Kuijken family are period instrument specialists and they were joined by Michel Boulanger for this recording of Mozart’s two piano quartets. Mozart received a commission for three quartets in 1785 from the publisher Franz Anton Hoffmeister. When Mozart presented him with the G Minor Piano Quartet, Hoffmeister determined that the work was too difficult and the general public would not buy it, so he released Mozart from his obligation. Mozart, however, was undeterred and he produced the second Piano Quartet in E Flat nine months later. The G Minor Piano Quartet is the first major work composed for these instrumental forces in the chamber music repertoire.

I am more familiar with recordings of these works on modern instruments, although there are many fine recordings on period instruments. The advantage of period instruments is that they allow for greater balance between the fortepiano and the string players and a more integrated sound. The Kuijken family and Michel Boulanger brings enormous charm to the Piano Quartet in E Flat. The opening Allegro is a model of clarity and all the players are highly attentive to phrasing and dynamics in the best Classical tradition. In the development section the quartet injects some Romantic colouring into the work and one has the sense that they are plumbing the emotional depths. The players adopt a nicely flowing tempo in the second movement Larghetto and there is some beautiful articulation and deft exchanges. Mozart’s surprising harmonic shifts are played as if fresh and newly imagined and the players are not afraid of the dissonances within the movement. Phrases are passed seamlessly between Veronica and Sigiswald Kuijken. The dance-like quality of the final Allegretto shines through and Veronica Kuijken produces some brilliantly articulated passagework.

The G Minor Piano Quartet opens in ominous fashion in the strings and all four players bring weight and intensity to Mozart’s dark textures. Once again I am struck by some of Mozart’s extraordinary harmonic shifts – this really must have been a very daring work for the time and one can perhaps understand Hoffmeister’s reticence, when Mozart let him have sight of it. The development section has a broad expansive feel with all four players working as one to create symphonic sonorities. The Andante slow movement has an elegant flowing lyricism and Mozart’s elegant melodic lines are beautifully shaped. The jaunty Rondo has enormous rhythmic impetus and one senses the players’ delight in the joys of music-making. Veronica Kuijken, in her programme notes, draws attention to how the music in this movement foreshadows Papageno’s music in ‘The Magic Flute’ and one can hear it very clearly in this recording.

There are excellent recordings of these works by Clifford Curzon and the Amadeus Quartet and by Paul Lewis and the Leopold String Trio. I am less familiar with those on period instruments and comparisons with performances on modern instruments are difficult to make. The one thing that is certain, however, is that this is Mozart playing of the highest order by the Kuijken family and Michel Boulanger. It is an intensely musical performance and all four players show an in-depth understanding of the Classical tradition. Highly recommended.

Robert Beattie

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