String Quartets, K 387 ‘Spring’, 458 ‘Hunt’ & 464 ‘Drum’
Lawo Classics LWC1219 78:33 mins
Mozart’s set of six middle-period string quartets dedicated to Haydn (the senior master-composer he much respected) have always been specially admired by pundits. These likeable performances reveal why that’s the case: the music’s range and richness of invention seem to be endless, yet never forced, qualities that are happily conveyed at every point by this Norwegian-based quartet. Their collective approach is subtly different for each work in line with its overall tone – deft and mercurial in the G major Quartet, warmly sunlit in its B flat companion and a telling notch more expansive in the set’s great masterpiece, K464 in A major.
The ensemble bears its leader’s name, and sure enough, Arvid Engegård is a commanding personality, of the engaging kind who makes things happen around him without in any way domineering proceedings. He and his colleagues aren’t afraid to momentarily bend a tempo or an individual phrase here or there, in a way that sounds either nicely spontaneous, or down to seasoned experience of what works in context.
Not everything comes off ideally: yes, the B flat Quartet’s finale is Mozart in his aren’t-I-clever mood, but the playing here perhaps over-eggs the point more than the music needs. Its polar opposite is the A major Quartet’s slow movement, a set of variations whose underlying feeling of quiet wondrousness seems to point ahead to Beethoven’s soundworld; the music-making here captures this mood exactly without inflating it, with each player savouring individual opportunities presented as the sequence unfolds.