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

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WORKS: String Quartet in B flat, K458; String Quartet in E flat, K428
PERFORMER: Ysaÿe Quartet
Now just beginning its second decade, the Ysaÿe can fairly lay claim to being France’s premier string quartet. The musicians bring to their playing not only the well known French virtues of euphony and precision (their attention to detail is exemplary), but a finely honed emotional warmth and an eloquence of phrase which never exceeds the bounds of Mozartian propriety. For some listeners, however, they may seem just a little on the bland side. At their best when most lyrical, their generally admirable concern for tonal beauty triumphs occasionally over that intensity of utterance which is so essential a part of Mozart’s psychology. But those are minor quibbles. On balance, this is a most welcome and enjoyable release.


There is arguably no more sensitive or stylish a Mozartian than András Schiff, and his performances in the present offering, like those of his colleagues, are in most respects just as admirable as one would expect. Exceptionally, he plays here on Mozart’s own piano, which in itself puts this release into a class of its own. If I retain a certain scepticism about the use of the fortepiano in modern performances, it’s due to a characteristic which is almost universally shared by those who play it, namely a slamming into the keys in forte passages which strikes me as a serious drawback in Mozart. Not even Schiff is immune to this hazard, with the result that many phrases are marred by an unwelcome thunk which impedes the onward flow of the music. But given the great virtues of the performances in general, this must be regarded as a critical nit-pick on my part. Jeremy Siepmann