String Quartets K575, K589 & K590 (‘Prussian’ Nos 1-3)
Doric String Quartet
Chandos CHAN 20249(2) 90:00 mins (2 discs)
Mozart wrote his three Prussian quartets in 1789-90 for the cello-playing King Frederick William of Prussia. They may not match the striking individuality of the famous set of six he dedicated to Haydn, but are still remarkably fine works which skewer the hierarchical concept of 18th-century quartet music by giving the cello equal prominence to the first violin, and include some daring passages that point forward to Beethoven.
The Doric Quartet emphasises this unpredictability with their vivid and insightful interpretations that bristle with life and character. Although employing a wide palette of timbres, ranging from a pure and intimate non-vibrato sound (absolutely appropriate for the sotto voce markings in K575) to a much more full-blooded attack, they take infinite care to make the textures sound as light and clear as possible, and their commendable observance of all the repeats in first movements and finales enhances the overall stature of each work. Occasionally, there is a tendency to rush certain passages (for instance, in the first movement of K575), thereby depriving the music of an identifiable rhythmic pulse. Their approach to rubato, too, is sometimes questionable, as in the slow movement of K589 where for no obvious reason the first violinist lengthens certain notes in a florid sequence of semiquavers at the expense of others. But these are relatively small matters within the overall excellence of this beautifully recorded set.