Mozart: String Quartets, K421, K428, K458, K464, K465, K499, K575, K589 & K590; String Quintets, K515, K516, K593 & K614

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COMPOSERS: Mozart
LABELS: DG
WORKS: String Quartets, K421, K428, K458, K464, K465, K499, K575, K589 & K590; String Quintets, K515, K516, K593 & K614
PERFORMER: Amadeus Quartet; Cecil Aronowitz (viola)
CATALOGUE NO: 474 000-2 ADD mono/stereo Reissue (1951-7)
The earliest of these recordings were made just three years after the Amadeus Quartet’s official debut in 1948, but already most of the characteristic Amadeus hallmarks are there: the sudden darkening of tone at the turn to the minor at the centre of the Hunt Quartet’s opening movement; the infectiously lilting trio of the minuet in the same work; the sheer energy and exhilaration of the finale of the E flat Quartet, K428. These are performances to cherish, and the warmth and unaffectedness of the playing in the remainder of the quartets is no less admirable. (The G major, K387, is alone absent among Mozart’s ten great works in this medium.) The only disappointments – the general lack of exposition repeats apart – come in the famous slow introduction to the Dissonance, K465, which is curiously lacking in mystery and intensity; and the generally rather subdued account of the B flat, K589. In both instances the Quartetto Italiano (Philips) or the later of the Alban Berg Quartet’s recordings strike me as preferable.

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Even more impressive than the quartets are the four great string quintets, with Cecil Aronowitz playing second viola. The Amadeus takes a broader view of the serenely Olympian opening movement of the C major, K515, than on its 1967 DG recording (and this time it does include the repeat); and one might almost think the long duet for first violin and viola in its slow movement had actually been written for Norbert Brainin and Peter Schidlof. The slow movement of the G minor companion-work, K516, is lingering and wonderfully sensuous, and the finale’s slow introduction – perhaps the most profoundly tragic page Mozart ever wrote – has Brainin’s unique parlando style tugging at the heartstrings. This performance, too, is even finer than the Amadeus’s later version. The widely praised recordings of the quintets by the augmented Grumiaux Trio also have much to offer, though their elegant restraint sometimes robs the music of real passion.

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These Amadeus reissues are mostly recorded in rather indifferent mono sound, but don’t let that put you off: this is music-making that comes straight from the heart. Misha Donat