Mozart: String Quartet in D, K499 (Hoffmeister); String Quartet in B flat, K589; String Quartet in F, K590 (Prussian)

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WORKS: String Quartet in D, K499 (Hoffmeister); String Quartet in B flat, K589; String Quartet in F, K590 (Prussian)
PERFORMER: Hagen Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 477 5081
It might have been neater to have programmed all three of Mozart’s ‘Prussian’ quartets on the same disc; but the isolated ‘Hoffmeister’ K499 is a work that sometimes gets overlooked, and it’s good to have it in as generally sympathetic a performance as here. The graceful surface of its opening movement is consistently undermined by unexpected switches in harmonic direction, and the Hagen Quartet conveys the sophisticatedly subversive atmosphere well. And I particularly liked the way the players allow the piece to fade away at the end, as it should, without a hint of a ritardando. The ‘Prussian’ quartets K589 and K590 are rather more relaxed in style, with the melodic material shared among the four parts with greater equanimity (Mozart hoped to win favour with the cello-playing King of Prussia by dedicating the works to him). There’s a good deal to enjoy in the Hagen’s performances here, too, though there are times when they seem a little fussy and over-refined. And given the meticulousness of their approach, it’s curious to find the players failing to agree among themselves about how to interpret the ornaments in the main theme of K.589’s slow movement. For a warmer, more natural account of these pieces it’s worth investigating the earlier of the two recordings by the Alban Berg Quartet, which also manages to have more fun with K.589’s lively finale. It’s a pity, too, that the sound on this new DG recording is so close and dry. Misha Donat