String Quartets Vol. 3: K155, 168, 172, 387, 575 & 590
CAvi-music AVI8553032 116:19 mins (2 discs)
The latest instalment in the Armida’s ongoing Mozart quartet series in conjunction with Urtext publishers Henle (due to be completed this year) is a triumph, both musically and technically. Encapsulating the best of all worlds, the Armida play with the exquisite nuancing of the finest old-school outfits, yet with a take-nothing-for-granted interpretative inquisitiveness that takes historically informed practice to a whole new level.
They open with the well-loved K387 in G (No. 14) – the first of the ‘Haydn’ Quartets – and one is immediately struck by the lucidity of both the playing and recording. Gently articulating the music with exquisitely subtle vibrato shadings and exemplary bow control, every line speaks with a clarity of thought that caresses the ear. Most striking of all is the ensemble’s meticulous tonal matching, so that one is beguiled anew by Mozart’s infinite variety of scoring – not merely as ideas are passed around the quartet, but by dazzling changes in duet, trio and quartet texturing within the score’s structural fabric. The quartet’s microfine intonation and cross-matching further enhance the work’s expressive potency.
It’s no surprise, then, also to find interpretatively engaging and fresh accounts of the early quartets – at times, especially with K172 in B flat (No. 12), it feels as though one is hearing this music for the first time. Yet turn to K575 in D (No. 21), first of the ‘Prussian’ set of three, and Mozart’s divine ‘late’ inspiration appears to float free of musical gravity through the Armida’s exquisitely insightful playing.