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

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LABELS: Naïve Astrée
WORKS: String Quartet in B flat, K589; String Quartet in D, K499 (Hoffmeister)
PERFORMER: Mosaïques Quartet
Playing with its trademark refinement and poise, the Mosaïques gives an unusually gentle, inward reading of Mozart’s wonderful stray Quartet, K499, probing the music’s harmonic shadows and remote modulations, and bringing an ideal clarity to the composer’s dense contrapuntal textures. The first movement and minuet are hauntingly coloured by the veiled timbre of the viola; and with the less penetrating sonorities of the gut strings, the instrument can emerge without strain in, say, its chromatic countermelodies in the minuet. Tempi, too, are beautifully judged, the opening movement taken as a relaxed, fluid Allegretto (most ensembles go for something rather more purposeful), the sensuous Adagio flowing yet spaciously phrased, with leader Erich Höbarth delicately inflecting his ornamental filigree work. And while the finale is full of mercurial interplay, the players seek out the reflectiveness and whimsy that lie beneath the music’s spirited surface.


The second ‘Prussian’ Quartet, K589, is even more reticent, with that faint austerity of tone and texture characteristic of late Mozart – a quality emphasised when the music is played with sparing vibrato on gut strings. In the outer movements the Mosaïques’s gentle flexibility and care for the subtle weave of Mozart’s part-writing are ideal. And Christophe Coin phrases his tempting-looking cello solos in the first movement and the Larghetto with an eloquent restraint in keeping with the whole performance. Desirable recordings of these two quartets – all on modern instruments – include those by the Alban Berg, Seventies vintage (Teldec), the Chilingirian (CRD) and the Quartetto Italiano (Philips). But my top recommendation would now be these new performances by the Mosaïques, whose intimacy, clarity of texture and delicacy of nuance and colouring seem especially apt to these two works.