Mozart: String Quartet in D minor, K421; String Quartet in B flat, K458; String Quartet in C, K465

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COMPOSERS: Mozart
LABELS: Sony
WORKS: String Quartet in D minor, K421; String Quartet in B flat, K458; String Quartet in C, K465
PERFORMER: Artis Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 61695 Reissue (1991)
Musical ideas flooded out of Mozart almost as quickly as he could put them down on paper. ‘I write as a sow piddles,’ he once mused, in a self-characterisation typical of his toilet humour. Nevertheless, his incredible compositional fluency did not extend to string quartets. His first 13 are well-crafted but not particularly profound.

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Between 1782 and 1785 he toiled on a set of six quartets which he dedicated to Haydn, whose Op. 33 quartets had revealed the genre’s potential. The older composer gave fulsome praise to the fruits of these labours, but Mozart continued to find it a difficult medium. Finding the right tone for the finales in three Prussian quartets caused problems, and the autograph scores have several crossed-out ideas. The finished product betrays no sign of such struggles, and their prevailing air of insouciance is all the more remarkable considering that they were written at a time of acute domestic hardship.

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The Leipzig Quartet displays wonderful timbral variety in these works, but it is sometimes lacking in zest and not always in control of the quartets’ rhythmic ebb and flow. Although sluggish in the D minor Quartet, the Artis Quartet is otherwise ebullient in the ‘Haydn’ quartets. Christopher Dingle