Mozart: Piano Quartets in E flat, K493, in G minor, K478, & in E flat, K452

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COMPOSERS: Mozart
LABELS: ASV Gaudeamus
WORKS: Piano Quartets in E flat, K493, in G minor, K478, & in E flat, K452
PERFORMER: Sonnerie
CATALOGUE NO: CD GAU 212

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Mozart’s two familiar piano quartets are joined here by a third work scored for the same forces – not an original piece, but an arrangement of the great Quintet for piano and winds, K452. The transcription was actually published some half-dozen years before the original version first appeared in print (both were issued posthumously), but it is workmanlike rather than inspired, and almost certainly not authentic. It makes a welcome bonus all the same, though Sonnerie’s rather prosaic account of the slow movement does little to help bring the music to life; and the finale’s written-out cadenza, which Mozart wanted played in tempo, is mercilessly dragged out.

Much more feisty is the performance of the G minor Quartet K478; and this time the ensemble’s keyboard player, Gary Cooper, boldly garnishes the rondo finale with his own fully-blown cadenza – a curious fantasia closer in style to CPE Bach than Mozart, and one that sounds disturbingly out of place in its surroundings. There is some sensitive playing in the E flat Quartet K493, though Sonnerie’s tendency to unpick Mozart’s carefully sewn seams sometimes robs the music of its natural flow. For an altogether inspired account of the G minor Quartet, try Benjamin Britten’s 1971 Aldeburgh performance with a string trio led by Kenneth Sillito (BBC), though the piano sound is not good. If you want both quartets, the Beaux Arts Trio’s 1983 recording with the fine viola player Bruno Giuranna still sounds very well, and the music is played with great affection and warmth.

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Misha Donat