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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART

Piano Quartet in g, K.478*
Piano Quartet in E flat, K.493*
Rondo, K.511

Arthur Rubinstein (pianoforte), Members of the Guarneri Quartet*
Recorded 1971* and 1959
BMG RCA Red Seal 09026 63075-2 [64' 36"]
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Rubinstein played chamber music only sporadically, and considerable publicity was given to the group of records he made with the Guarneri Quartet during his Indian summer period. He recalled that he had played trios with Heifetz and Piatigorsky but they (not exactly performers noted for their reticence) had expected him to play like a "timid mouse" (or words to that effect, I haven't looked up the exact quotation). With the Guarneri Quartet, a young American group whose sure-fire virtuosity and tough-toned resilience tended to symbolise for the British public all that was most objectionable in American music-making, he was at liberty to play out as he wished.

Certainly, a casual listener might think he was listening to a full orchestral accompaniment at times (the violinist's vibrato on high sustained notes even has a suggestion of Mantovani's cascading strings). The recording is a bit fierce but the piano sounds well and I imagine everything has been done that can be to tone down a recording which close-miked performances that projected to the back of the hall. The limpid tone and the generosity of phrasing which always marked this pianist's work are everywhere present and in the end it is this rather than any passing aggressiveness from the strings which remains in the mind.

Lovers of today's "authentic" performances will find it all rather perplexing, but so did most of us even in the 1970s. It isn't exactly Mozart but the Olympian calm of its unflappable easy-going outer movements and warmly flowing slow movements is a wonderful listening experience in its way.

That these Quartet performances form a postscript to Rubinstein's career is demonstrated by the 1959 A minor Rondo. In spite of the duller recording there is a translucency about every note, a life to every inner part and a natural expressiveness to the phrasing which proclaim a great pianist at his peak. At least, for the first 9 and a half minutes (out of 10). At that point my copy got whatever the CD equivalent is of a repeating groove (three times on two different players, so my equipment was not at fault). Check your copy carefully.

Christopher Howell

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