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Mozart: Horn Quintet, Piano Quartet, Clarinet Quintet / Zirk, Luevano, Arianna Quartet

Release Date: 10/26/2010 
Label:  Centaur Records   Catalog #: 3048   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  David FosterWillard ZirkDady MehtaKimberly Cole Luevano
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Arianna String Quartet
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MOZART Horn Quintet in E?, K 407 1. Piano Quartet in g, K 478 2. Clarinet Quintet in A, K 581 3 Arianna Str Qrt; 1 Daniel Foster (va); 1 Willard Zirk (hn); 2 Dady Mehta (pn); Read more class="SUPER12">3 Kimberly Cole Luevano (cl) CENTAUR CRC 3048 (73:24)

Sometimes I wonder if it isn’t a radiation leak from some nearby nuclear power plant that reanimates departed recordings, like the zombies in Night of the Living Dead . If this sounds like the lead-in to a dismissive review, I assure you it is not, for the performances on this CD are among the best I’ve heard. But here is the crux of my consternation: Visiting the Arianna String Quartet’s official website, I read, “Centaur Records has just released the Arianna Quartet’s new (my italics) Mozart collaborative disc which includes the Clarinet Quintet K. 581, the Horn Quintet K. 407, and the Piano Quartet in G Minor K.478.” Yet the disc I’m holding in my hand says, “Recorded May, 1999, at Pease Auditorium, Eastern Michigan University.” The disconnect between fact—“1999”—and fiction—“new”—might arouse suspicion that the Arianna String Quartet, an ensemble that, frankly, I’d never heard of before, had exited the stage, and now, like the movie’s living-dead, was being brought back to life through a dozen-years-old recording.

This, as it turns out, is only partially the case. The Arianna String Quartet is in fact of relatively recent formation, established in 1992 by cellist Kurt Baldwin, associate professor of music at the University of Missouri in St. Louis, which is where the quartet has been in residence since 2000. Apparently, the ensemble is not so new, however, as not to have seen two of its members replaced since the recording under review was made. Baldwin and first violin John McGrosso are the two survivors. The second violin and viola chairs, which were occupied by Rebecca Rhee and Mahoko Eguchi in 1999, are now, according to the ensemble’s website, occupied by David Gillham and Joanna Mendoza, though one can never be sure how up to date these things are.

Moreover, we are informed that a recently signed long-term contract with Centaur Records promises recordings of the complete Beethoven, Bartók, and Janá?ek quartets, as well as the Mozart “Haydn” Quartets, and that the first of them, the Janá?ek, is to be released in the fall of 2010. Promises, promises; 2010 has come and gone, and so far, as of this writing in January 2011, no Janá?ek; and the only other recordings I find currently listed are four CDs on Albany, Centaur, and Urtext that appear to date from around the same time as this Centaur retread. Interestingly, one of those Urtext CDs contains a performance of the Mozart Clarinet Quintet included on the current release, but it features a different clarinetist, Eleanor Weingartner, than the one heard here, Kimberly Cole Luevano.

It’s a pity that one or another of these promised new releases couldn’t have been sent instead, so that the Arianna String Quartet could be heard with its present personnel. As configured on this disc, the ensemble does turn in some of the most sharply defined playing I’ve heard in these works, as noted at the outset; but anything said with regard to these performances must, of necessity, be parsed in the past tense.

Crispness and clarity are hallmarks of the playing and recording. Voice-leading, especially in the viola part, often submerged and even dismissed as mere accompanimental filler, is here brought to the fore in a way that reminds us of Mozart’s affection for the viola and the care he lavished on the inner lines of his more important chamber works. The innovative piano quartets, of which we are here given the first in G Minor (1785), and the sublime Clarinet Quintet (1789), written for Anton Stadler, are surely among the composer’s late great masterpieces. The Horn Quintet (1782) written for Ignaz Leutgeb, Mozart’s favorite horn player and butt of his many jokes, is perhaps not as musically profound as the later works, but it has remained a favorite among horn players and a test of their virtuosity.

These, of course, are not period-instrument performances. Willard Zirk delivers fluid and mellifluent playing on a modern valve horn; and as for Luevano, I suspect she makes do with a modern A clarinet as opposed to the basset clarinet Mozart was writing for in his Clarinet Quintet. My only complaint is that the recording tends to be overbalanced in favor of the clarinet, which at times emerges from the string ensemble like a startled elephant suddenly appearing in a clearing from out of the brush.

Most impressive, performance-wise, is the Piano Quartet. Tempos are brisk, accents and dynamics carefully observed, and rhythmic pointing alert. As noted above, many small details in voice-leading, echo effects, and the passing of material from one instrument to another are revealed with a precision and transparency not always captured as clearly by other recordings I’ve heard.

This is a tantalizing appetizer for things yet to come. I’m hoping that Centaur and the Arianna String Quartet make good on their pledge—better late than never—to record and release the Mozart, Beethoven, Janá?ek, and Bartók promised. Meanwhile, this is one zombie that deserves to stay undead. Recommended.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

Quintet for Horn, Violin, 2 Violas and Cello in E flat major, K 407 (386c) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  David Foster (Viola), Willard Zirk (French Horn)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Arianna String Quartet
Period: Classical 
Written: 1782; Vienna, Austria 
Quartet for Piano and Strings no 1 in G minor, K 478 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Dady Mehta (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Arianna String Quartet
Period: Classical 
Written: 1785; Vienna, Austria 
Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in A major, K 581 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Kimberly Cole Luevano (Clarinet)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Arianna String Quartet
Period: Classical 
Written: 1789; Vienna, Austria 

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