Beethoven • Mozart Quintets for Piano and Winds
Harmonia Mundi HMM 905296 51:08 mins
Mozart regarded his Quintet for piano and winds K452, written in 1784 when he was 28, as the finest thing he had done, in an enthusiastic letter to his father. In it he faced the challenge of coping with instruments which can easily sound competitive with one another rather than collaborative. In this recording, played on reproductions of period instruments, that is exactly what happens, to a point where I found the sound positively ugly, something hard to imagine coming from Mozart. He had realised the problem, and was pleased with having coped with it; whether he would have been pleased with this recording is another matter.
I am not a fan of most aspects of ‘authenticity’, and if I wanted one recording to demonstrate why, this would be a perfect example. The fortepiano evokes aural images of a deserted pub, and the four wind soloists vie with one another in acridity. I subjected myself to it several times, but my elderly prejudices refused to budge. Oddly enough, the early Beethoven work, written when he was 26 and inspired almost certainly by the Mozart, I found less disagreeable. I tried the recording of K452 with Radu Lupu at the piano and modern instruments all round, and found it balm, though still incisive. The booklet for the disc contains huge articles by several scholars, and gives a second-by-second commentary, which I can’t imagine anyone following.