Mozart: Divertimento in E flat, K563; Duo in B flat, K424

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COMPOSERS: Mozart
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Divertimento in E flat, K563; Duo in B flat, K424
PERFORMER: Leopold String Trio
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67246
Mozart’s E flat Divertimento for string trio is one of the most deceptively titled works in the catalogue. The number of movements (six, including two minuets and a theme and variations) may recall the breezy divertimenti of the Salzburg years. But though the second minuet, with its two Ländler trios, and the finale are outwardly popular in tone, there is nothing divertimento-like about the other movements. Mozart’s handling of the notoriously difficult trio medium is varied and inventive; and the whole work has a grandeur and polyphonic subtlety that aligns it with the late string quintets.

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This new recording from the Leopold Trio seriously challenges the 1967 Grumiaux version on Philips, long the benchmark for many Mozart lovers. Arthur Grumiaux’s own playing has an undeniable charisma and individuality of inflection, though he is very much primus inter pares, an impression enhanced by the close recording of the violin. The Leopold’s violinist, Marianne Thorsen, is also slightly too prominent in the balance, but the Leopold is a more truly democratic group, the players matching and reacting to each other’s phrasing with rare empathy. Their performance as a whole is gentler and more classically chaste than the Grumiaux; but, with scrupulous attention to Mozart’s dynamics and articulation, they characterise at least as vividly, whether in the remote modulations in the first-movement development (enhanced by the players’ veiled sotto voce colouring), the rarefied intensity of the Adagio, or the range of mood and colour they bring to the fifth-movement variations. Thorsen and violist Scott Dickinson display an ideally graceful, sensitive give-and-take in the B flat Duo – another work where Mozart seems to delight in transcending a medium’s limitations. For its uncommonly refined and democratic interplay, this new disc now eclipses Grumiaux as my top recommendation in both works. And as a follow-up, how about the Leopold in Schoenberg’s String Trio? Richard Wigmore