Levon Chilingirian

The first violinist and founder of the Chilingirian Quartet talks about recording Mozart’s String Quintets

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The Mozart Quintets are very intense, particularly the G minor, K516…

The key of G minor and Mozart go hand in hand – this music is on the same level as Symphony No. 40. I think that the Mozart Quintets are even greater than his String Quartets. He didn’t find it easy to write quartets like his mentor, Haydn. Mozart worked so hard to emulate him, but when he wrote the Quintets, on the other hand, he was in a very different situation.

They’re beyond anything he wrote in the Quartets. He uses the richness of the second viola adding to the darker corners of the texture without cluttering it. I also think that Mozart handled the quintet medium better than Brahms who needed one more instrument again to be relaxed. His Sextets are so sparely written, but when you look at his Quartets and Quintets, it’s too much!

There are some unfinished Quintet fragments in existence. Did you record those?

In our third CD of the Quintets, we added what I think is the longest fragment – it would have been a companion piece to K593 in D and K614 in E flat – it’s got an opus number of K515c. It’s in a minor key and it’s an extraordinary allegro moderato. The main themes are complete up to the double bar, but quite a lot of the accompaniment is missing.

We thought about putting in the quavers in the middle parts, but I knew that the instant we tried to do that we wouldn’t equal the unpredictable genius of Mozart, no matter how much we worked on it. So we just did it exactly as it is in the score. It gives you a taste of what might have been had he written the third late Quintet.

Was it tricky working with a viola player who doesn’t normally play with you?

The short answer is no. The second viola writing is so integrated into the texture that when you have the right player, then immediately it works. Yuko Inoue is a wonderful player and from the first time we played with her – which was years ago – it was obvious that she was going for a similar style of playing, articulation, musical phrasing to us. In fact I would say that it felt exactly the same as playing a quartet. Of course, that only happens when you have the right person.

How did the recording sessions go?

There’s an analogy that making recordings is like the second serve in tennis, the first serve being a live performance. I think it’s extremely true because were not superhuman – we do like to have human beings as listeners. So we have ourselves as our audience, which is wonderful, although I imagine how lonely it must be for a solo pianist to make recordings – it must to be difficult for them to keep up the inspiration.

Will you be performing the Quintets live?

We love doing the Quintets and we continue to perform them – we have a major project in 2011 doing all the Mozart Quartets and Quintets at Kings Place in London – so we will definitely be returning to these pieces.

Interview by Oliver Condy

The first two volumes of the Chilingirian Quartet and viola player Yuko Inoue’s recording of Mozart’s String Quintets are out now on CRD Records. Volume No. 3 will be on sale in the next few months

Related links:

Mozart's String Quintets from the Chilingirian Quartet and Yuko Inoue – Volume One
Mozart's String Quintets from the Chilingirian Quartet and Yuko Inoue – Volume Two