Mozart: String Quartet in E flat, K428; String Quartet in B flat, K458

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LABELS: Emergo
WORKS: String Quartet in E flat, K428; String Quartet in B flat, K458
PERFORMER: Orlando Quartet
K428 and K458 belong to the set of six quartets Mozart dedicated to Haydn – ‘the fruit’, as he confessed, ‘of long and laborious effort’. They are among his most consciously intellectual achievements, and K428 begins with a curiously ‘abstract’ idea given out in octaves by all four players. Its slow movement is a dream-like, almost themeless piece which seems to pay homage to the first quartet from Haydn’s earliest great set, Op. 20.


To stress the disengaged style of K428’s opening bars is all very well, but the Orlando Quartet plays the whole work, as well as its successor, the famous Hunt Quartet, K458, in a detached manner that all too often robs the music of its natural warmth. Moreover, the over-refinement of their playing, allied with a fussy attention to details of dynamics, results in performances that lack any sense of spontaneity or life.


Far preferable in every respect is the American Quartet, providing honest and down-to-earth music-making of a high level. Playing on a matched set of Stradivarius instruments on loan from the Smithsonian Institute, they produce an admirably blended sound. Their disc also offers the middle work in Mozart’s late triptych of ‘Prussian’ Quartets, as well as one of the most attractive of his early quartets. Misha Donat