Mozart: String Quartets, K387, K421, K482, K458 (Hunt), K464, K465 (Dissonance), K499 (Hoffmeister), K575, K589 & K590

COMPOSERS: Mozart
LABELS: CRD
WORKS: String Quartets, K387, K421, K482, K458 (Hunt), K464, K465 (Dissonance), K499 (Hoffmeister), K575, K589 & K590
PERFORMER: Chilingirian Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 5005 ADD/DDD Reissue (1980, 1986)
The Talich Quartet recorded its Mozart cycle for Calliope between 1984 and 1993. Newly reissued, its traversal is an impressive bargain, delivering performances of estimable vitality and distinction throughout. CRD’s rival package from the Chilingirian Quartet, spanning Mozart’s six Haydn and three Prussian Quartets, plus the K499 Hoffmeister, is a less generous, but still enticing alternative.

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Initial comparisons find the Chilingirian less forthright and brilliant. Its leader’s intonation isn’t always totally secure, and tempi (especially for outer movements) are quite measured, but never ponderous. Dynamic contrasts are effectively managed, however, with playing that’s never forced or aggressive. Instead, phrasings are simply conceived and deftly executed. K464’s lovely Andante, for example, has beguiling ebb and flow, but chromatic tensions underlying K465 (Dissonance) lack pace and drama. Still, the Chilingirian’s diligent restraint pays off and, unless you prefer roller-coaster romps through these works, you’ll find its reflective understatement and avoidance of rhetoric rewarding.

The Talich set brings performances of greater emotional scope, but there’s a price to be paid. Bows dig more deeply, speeds are more urgent and vital and the recordings are much closer, too, picking up string noise and some occasional roughness. You’ll trade something of the Chilingirian’s deftness and elegance, but a tougher, more sinewy approach can pay dividends, too. For a revealing comparison, try the slow movement of the K499 Hoffmeister. After the Chilingirian’s subtly whispered confidences (the tonic minor counterpoint of the trio section is masterfully controlled), the Talich’s earthier gestures can seem rather less attractive. They’re heard to fullest advantage in bravura episodes, where their propulsive energy imparts raciness and grandeur, as in K499’s stunning finale.

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To sum up, Calliope’s set offers better value and wider coverage, with several violin sonatas, divertimenti, and even a Haydn quartet added for good measure. The CRD accounts, though more cautiously attained, have greater stylistic flair, with Robin Golding’s excellent booklet notes providing further inducement. Other options worth considering are the impeccable Teldec reissues (4509-95495-2) from the Alban Berg Quartet or, should you require all 23 works, the Quartetto Italiano’s Philips cycle (422 512-2), recorded 1966-73 and still a prime contender.