ALBUM TITLE: Mozart
WORKS: String Quartets (Prussian): No. 21 in D, K575; No. 22 in B flat, K589; No. 23 in F, K590
PERFORMER: Engegård Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: LWC 1123
Mozart’s last three quartets – that ‘troublesome work’, as he once complained to a friend – were composed in the hope of receiving financial compensation from the King of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm II. The king was a keen amateur cellist, and in order to give his instrument greater melodic independence than normal in a string quartet Mozart found himself having to devise a new style of writing in which all four players discoursed in the manner of an operatic ensemble.
The Norwegian Engegård Quartet responds well to the warmth and melodic ardour of these pieces. These aren’t, perhaps, the most polished performances you’re ever likely to hear – there are some slight lapses of intonation in the higher reaches of the first violin part, and there’s a touch of harshness to the recorded sound – but they’re likeable enough, with finely-judged expressive freedom in the slow movements, and an imaginative approach to providing subtle variation in repeats. There’s a hint of impatience about the minuets, particularly in the last quartet; and at the mid-point of the finale in the middle work of the group the tempo suddenly lurches forward – perhaps the result of an edit between different takes. One small point: in the slow movement of K589 the cellist and first violinist ought to have come to an agreement about how to play the ornament in the opening melody (the cellist seems to me to have got it right). But despite any such niggles, these are enjoyable performances, and this is clearly an ensemble to watch.