Mozart: String Quartet in C, K465 (Dissonance); String Quartet in D, K499 (Hoffmeister)

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COMPOSERS: Mozart
LABELS: EMI
ALBUM TITLE: Mozart: String Quartets
WORKS: String Quartet in C, K465 (Dissonance); String Quartet in D, K499 (Hoffmeister)
PERFORMER: Belcea Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 344 4552
The Hoffmeister Quartet, K499 (so called because it was issued by the composer and publisher Franz Anton Hoffmeister) occupies an isolated position between his six Haydn quartets and the three late works intended for the King of Prussia. Perhaps that’s why it’s less often played than some of its companions, though it’s one of the most beautiful of them all, with an opening movement full of unexpected twists of harmony, a slow movement of Mozartian longing, and a finale whose central development section is a tour de force of contrapuntal ingenuity. A peculiarity it shares with the Dissonance, K465, is that its outer movements have a substantial coda following the second-half repeat. By observing both repeats in all these pieces, the Belcea allows us to hear the music’s transitions, pointing both forwards and backwards. These are superb performances, with well-judged tempos, nicely sprung rhythms, and a sense of spontaneity. It’s possible to feel that the Hoffmeister’s minuet isn’t quite as forceful as it might be, but the restrained approach prevents the viola from having to shout in order to make his imitative entries heard when the theme returns in the minuet’s second half.

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Among rival versions, the Lindsay Quartet offers a moving account of the Dissonance, with its famous slow introduction no less mysterious; while the Quartetto Italiano’s Hoffmeister is perfectly poised, and surely one of the finest recordings the ensemble ever made. Despite viable alternatives, this new disc is one that gives unalloyed pleasure. Misha Donat