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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
String Quartet No. 1 in G Major, K. 80
String Quartet No. 17 in B-flat Major, K. 458
String Quartet No. 20 in D Major, K. 499
Armida Quartett
rec. 2018, Studio 2 des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Munich, Germany
Booklet with commentary in English and German included
AVI MUSIC 8553444 [69]

Reviewing other volumes in the Armida Quartett’s series (Volume 4 ~ Volume 5) inspired me to rediscover Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s string quartet oeuvre. The disc under consideration, the second release, has made me realise that not merely textual emendations from the Urtext Edition by G. Henle Verlag account for the Armida Quartett’s riveting performances; their collaboration with the publisher (scholarship and practice) required them to re-examine the works. My interpretation of the essay by Michael Struck-Schloen and the interview with Wolf-Dieter Seiffert, the musicologist and publishing director of the new edition, is that the musicians had some input into the editorial process.

This disc achieves what the best recordings have always done: it induces listeners to appreciate the quartets as among the finest in the entire chamber music literature. In my reviews of other volumes, I have stressed the ensemble’s clarity and precision. These qualities are inherent in the performances of the three quartets included here, but I have also grown to recognise the warmth and spontaneity in evidence too. If a further volume is forthcoming to encompass the Divertimenti K. 136, 137, and 138, the Serenade in G Major K. 525 (‘Eine kleine Nachtmusik’), the ‘Adagio und Fuge’ in C minor K. 546, and Mozart’s arrangements of ‘Five Four-Part Fugues’ from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Das Wohltemperierte Klavier, 2. Teil, K. 405, the Armida Quartett could become the top choice for a complete set.

In the enclosed booklet, Martin Funda, the first violinist, explains that the Armida members explored Mozart’s creative process with Seiffert, who wanted to test practicalities concerning layout and clarify which options to prefer in cases of discrepancies between Mozart’s handwritten manuscripts and the first printed editions, which may represent his revisions. Regarding the quartet in B-flat Major, K. 458, Seiffert compared Mozart’s autograph in the British Library with the first publication by Artaria in 1785, both of which can be regarded as authoritative sources. According to Seiffert, posthumous editions (e.g., Alfred Einstein’s edition from 1945 and the Neuen Mozart-Ausgabe) introduced variations, such as dynamic markings, that are not by Mozart.

The String Quartet in G Major K. 80, dated 15 March 1770 in Lodi, is considered Mozart’s first. Originally in three movements (the finale Rondeau. Allegro was added three years later), this quartet was supposedly composed within a single evening while the fourteen-year-old Mozart and his father, Leopold, were passing through Lodi, which is about 40 kilometres east of Milan. Finished in 1784, the Quartet in B-flat Major, K. 458 (known as ‘The Hunt’ on account of the horn calls in the opening movement) is part of a group of six dedicated to Franz Joseph Haydn. The Quartet in D Major, K. 499 (‘Hoffmeisterquartett’), published in 1786 by Franz Anton Hoffmeister as a single item instead of the usual cycle of three or six, is characterised by melody arising equally from all four voices.

As I listened to this engrossing recording and read the notes, I wondered if the textual issues that Seiffert noted while preparing G. Henle Verlag’s new edition are limited to the string quartets or if other genres in Mozart’s output also warrant revision. If this is the case, then many decades of reference recordings were based on at least partially inaccurate musical texts. Such discoveries could create opportunities for active musicians and record companies willing to produce yet another ‘revised, expanded, and improved’ complete Mozart edition.

Daniel Floyd

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