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Mozart quartets v3 8553032
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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
String Quartets Volume 3
No 14 in G major, K. 387
No 23 in F major, K. 590
No 2 in D major, K. 155
No 8 in F major, K. 168
No 12 in B-flat major, K. 172
No 21 in D major, K. 575
Armida Quartett
rec. 2020, b-sharp Studio, Berlin-Pankow; Studio 2 des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Munich
Booklet with commentary in English and German included
AVI-MUSIC 8553032 [2 CDs: 116]

Coming to the third set in this rewarding series of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s string quartets affirms my view developed while reviewing the second, fourth, and fifth volumes that the Armida Quartett has been making the most significant integral cycle of this repertoire since the Hagen Quartett’s traversal (1988-2004). The premiere recordings of the Urtext Edition by G. Henle Verlag pay dividends in terms of fidelity to Mozart’s notation and by injecting these works with an extra degree of vitality. These lively, engaging performances encourage appreciation of all Mozart's quartets, including the early ones, which are valuable not only on account of the composer’s youth at the time of their creation but for their content.

Mozart’s letters contain few details about his composition of the quartets dedicated to Franz Joseph Haydn, but the manuscripts reveal how much effort he invested in them. The String Quartet in G major, K. 387 was completed on New Year’s Eve 1782 and published in a collection of six by Artaria in 1785. The opening Allegro vivace assai combines compositional art (chromaticism and polyphony) for musically knowledgeable audience members with popular elements (dances) for those who merely enjoy what they hear. Mozart distinguished ‘Kenner’ (i.e., those who understood complex musical forms) from ‘Nichtkenner’ (i.e., those who enjoyed music without knowing why) in a letter to his father (28 December 1782). In its synthesis of fugue and sonata form, the finale Molto Allegro anticipates his final symphony in C major, K. 551.

Written during the autumn of 1772 in Bozen (Bolzano), the three-movement String Quartet in D major, K. 155 contains themes resembling arias in Lucio Silla, the Opera seria that he was preparing for performance at the Teatro Regio Ducale in Milan on 26 December. The String Quartets in F major, K. 168 and B-flat major, K. 172 belong to a group of six (K. 168–173) that Mozart composed toward the end of 1773 in Vienna. In compliance with Viennese tastes, these quartets are in four movements, and each contains a Menuetto - Trio third movement.

The ‘Prussian Quartets’ in D major, K. 575 (completed in June 1789) and F major, K. 590 (finished in June 1790) are the first and last in a series of three that Mozart planned to dedicate to King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia (the second, in B-flat major K. 589, is not included on this recording). Published by Artaria shortly after Mozart’s death without any dedication, the quartets’ sole connection to the kingdom after which they have been named was the composer’s vague hope of gaining monarchical preferment. In a letter to his Masonic brother Michael Puchberg from July 1789, Mozart complained about his dire financial situation, including difficulties in attracting subscribers for a musical academy and obtaining royal support for the quartets, which cost him so much time to compose.

I cannot ascertain whether this is the first enterprise involving musicians, a musicologist, a publisher, and a record company. The results from this synthesis of specialties stimulate interest in a genre that, while hardly obscure, tends to be the province of connoisseurs. As Hansjörg Ewert’s essay in the enclosed booklet implies, the Armida Quartett lavishes equal attention upon Mozart’s string quartets and the newly commissioned compositions with which they are paired at recitals. The feeling that emerges from these recordings is that passionate commitment and precision make eighteenth-century music sound recent. Whereas discs by other ensembles languish in the recesses of my storage cabinet, Armida’s set will remain among my most frequently played because they capture under studio conditions a level of spontaneity and excitement associated with live performances. The music emerges from the speakers like being at a concert without any distractions or technical lapses.

Daniel Floyd

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