Mozart: String Quintet in B flat, K174; String Quintet in E flat, K614

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Mozart
LABELS: Dabringhaus und Grimm Gold
WORKS: String Quintet in B flat, K174; String Quintet in E flat, K614
PERFORMER: Ensemble Villa Musica
CATALOGUE NO: MDG 304 1031-2
Mozart’s solitary teenage string quintet has inevitably been eclipsed by the four masterpieces of his maturity. It is, though, a more interesting and characteristic work than any of the contemporary early string quartets, and already reveals the composer’s peculiar sensitivity to the dusky tone colour of the viola. While the prevailing spirit is one of breezy, divertimento-like charm, the quintet also has more serious aspirations, especially in the ambitious, contrapuntally inclined finale. The Mainz-based Ensemble Villa Musica gives a strong, athletic performance, with excellent intonation and internal balance (and a particularly good first viola), though by comparison with, say, Arthur Grumiaux and friends (Philips) and the augmented Amadeus Quartet (DG), the rhapsodic slow movement is short on tenderness and intimacy. One plus point is Ensemble Villa Musica’s inclusion of Mozart’s earlier version of the finale, enabling us to hear how the composer drastically revised and tautened what was originally a rather diffuse and garrulous movement.

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The late E flat Quintet, with its popular, Haydnesque tone, is also alertly and expertly played. Both Grumiaux and the Amadeus, though, find that much more character in this music, especially in the gracefully ornamented Andante, which here sounds rather rigid and strait-laced. Best of all, for my money, is the airy, delicately inflected performance from Hausmusik, whose period strings bring an extra lightness and clarity to the often busy textures of the outer movements. Richard Wigmore