Mozart: String Quartets: K168; K387; K464; K575

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COMPOSERS: Mozart
LABELS: MusicMasters
WORKS: String Quartets: K168; K387; K464; K575
PERFORMER: American String Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 01612 67194 2
The lengthy booklet notes to this set are written by the quartet’s viola player and, though given to the occasional zany flight of metaphorical fancy, are full of player’s insights and a refreshing sense of perspective. ‘Not all Mozart’s quartets are great,’ he admits, and ‘the minuet of K168 can get on one’s nerves…’. Notwithstanding, all of the 13 early works receive here the kind of considered and loving advocacy which easily justifies their continued claims on our attention. The refinement of tone which the ensemble produces throughout on a set of loaned Stradivarius instruments is immediately apparent, and so is the cleanly engineered sound, which might disappoint a little by all but removing any perceptible sense of physical, human effort in the playing. ‘Some baby shoes get bronzed,’ claim the notes about the early works. Touches of silver and gold, too, in these performances, I would hazard.

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The mature works are similarly blessed with examples of great quartet playing. There is such warm-hearted confidence in the first movement of K464 and sense of organic growth in that work’s variation slow movement. The mellowness of K575, and its stately and noble Andante are first class. There is great energy and virtuosity where it is required (the fugal finale of K387 stands out), careful variation of vibrato (as in K421’s slow movement) and excellent dovetailing throughout. I missed something of the mystery of the opening of the Dissonance Quartet and felt in the Hunt that the stirrup-cup may have passed them by but, overall, this is a very fine set. Only my taste for a ‘beefier’ sound keeps me loyal to the Alban Berg Quartet in the mature works. David Wilkins