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Mozart: Prussian Quartets / Emerson String Quartet


Release Date: 10/18/2011 
Label:  Sony   Catalog #: 793598   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Lawrence DuttonEugene DruckerPhilip SetzerDavid Finckel
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Emerson String Quartet
Number of Discs: 1 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews



MOZART String Quartets: in D, K 575; in B?, K 589; in F, K 590 Emerson Qrt SONY 793598 (74:43)


This comes as quite a surprise, for two reasons. First, in its long and distinguished career, the Emerson Quartet has never recorded Mozart’s last three string quartets, though the ensemble’s Deutsche Grammophon set of Mozart’s six “Haydn” quartets has been a Read more staple of the catalog for many years. And second, after a decades-long association with the yellow label, the Emerson is here making its debut on Sony.


In 1789, Mozart returned home from a visit to the Berlin court of Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm II with a commission in hand for six each of new string quartets and piano sonatas. He dashed off the first of the quartets, K 575, in record time, but once back in Vienna, work on other projects, notably Così fan tutte , temporarily put the King on hold. In the end, Mozart managed to complete only two more of the commissioned six quartets and only one of the piano sonatas.


The three quartets, the last Mozart would write, have thus come to be labeled the “Prussian” quartets, though there is another subtext that binds them closely together. They are often referred to, especially among players, as the “cello” quartets because Wilhelm was himself an accomplished amateur cellist and, taking this into account, Mozart wrote cello parts that both highlight the instrument and present the player with special challenges. Some of these may be heard in the exposed passage at the beginning of the Larghetto to K 589, where the cellist has the opening melody high up on the instrument’s A string, and in the first movement of K 590, where the cello soars above the ensemble in a tricky duet with the first violin.


For reasons hard to understand, these last three of Mozart’s string quartets have never been quite as popular or as frequently recorded as the set of six “Haydn” quartets. Yet listening to them, one cannot help but note what seems to be higher, more exalted musical plane. Short as it is, a movement like the Andante from K 575 speaks in a voice at once more intimate and heartfelt than any encountered in the composer’s earlier quartets. All three of these works are infused with a refined and rarefied atmosphere that is new in Mozart’s quartet writing, almost approaching the otherworldly aura that would be heard in Beethoven’s final quartets many years later.


Of course, that aura doesn’t exist on the page; it has to be brought out by the players, and I can say categorically that time has neither dulled the Emerson’s razor-sharp technical command nor diminished its musical perspicacity. These are simply the most exalted performances of these quartets I’ve ever heard. The ensemble projects a purity of tone that has about it an elevated, spiritual quality, this from a group that has been criticized in the past for a certain clinical coldness. Well, there is nothing clinical or cold here. The Emerson has been reborn in Mozart’s last string quartet utterances.


All repeats are taken and, as far as I’m concerned, Sony’s recording, made in LeFrak Hall at Queens College, New York, has given the ensemble a warmer and more luxuriant setting than its former label ever managed. It’s still early, but this release may well end up receiving my chamber-music recording of the year award. This is a compulsory purchase.


FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

1.
Quartet for Strings no 23 in F major, K 590 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Lawrence Dutton (Viola), Eugene Drucker (Violin), Philip Setzer (Violin),
David Finckel (Cello)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Emerson String Quartet
Period: Classical 
Written: 1790; Vienna, Austria 
2.
Quartet for Strings no 22 in B flat major, K 589 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Lawrence Dutton (Viola), Eugene Drucker (Violin), Philip Setzer (Violin),
David Finckel (Cello)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Emerson String Quartet
Period: Classical 
Written: 1790; Vienna, Austria 
3.
Quartet for Strings no 21 in D major, K 575 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Lawrence Dutton (Viola), Eugene Drucker (Violin), Philip Setzer (Violin),
David Finckel (Cello)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Emerson String Quartet
Period: Classical 
Written: 1789; Vienna, Austria 

Sound Samples

Allegretto
Andante
Menuetto
Allegretto
Allegro
Larghetto
Menuetto
Allegro assai
Allegro Moderato
Andante Allegretto
Menuetto Allegretto
Allegro

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