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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
String Quartet (No. 21) in D major, K.575 (1789) [23:36]
String Quartet (No. 23) in F major, K.590 (1790) [23:41]
Küchl Quartet (Rainer Küchl (violin1); Peter Wächter (violin II); Peter Götzel (viola); Franz Bartolomey (cello))
rec. 1-4, 11-12 December 1975; Sofiensaal, Vienna, Austria. ADD
DECCA ELOQUENCE 480 7267 [47:52]

We have here two of the three extant Prussian quartets, in analogue recordings benefiting from the famous warm ambience of the Sofiensaal. They are played by a quartet led by Rainer Küchl who in 1970 became the youngest ever VPO concertmaster at the age of twenty. He founded the Küchl Quartet in 1973.
 
Thus we may reasonably expect the quality of playing to be superlative and indeed it is. For purposes of comparison, I listened to these works played by the Talich and the Franz Schubert Quartet in the bargain “Chamber Music for Strings” box set on the “Brilliant” label. I must say that the Talich did not emerge ahead as I had expected, either in terms of sound or performance. The Talich recordings on Calliope have a rather tubby, indistinct quality which is too heavy on lower frequencies, whereas both the Küchl here and the Franz Schubert seemed far more evenly balanced, with individual instrumental lines more cleanly differentiated, whether they were recorded via the analogue or digital process. This especially matters in music which is famous for the prominence Mozart gave not just the cello, in deference to - and no doubt, in the hope of further patronage from - King Friedrich Wilhelm II, but also to every one of the solo instruments. Each of them has, at some point, its place in the sun - for example, during the variations in the Andante of K.590.
 
Furthermore, I found the Talich relentlessly urgent and aggressive. This generates its own excitement but is not an interpretative stance ideally suited to works which are primarily joyful and cantabile, being Mozart’s homage to Haydn’s sunnier style. Yet in the Allegro of K.590, for example, the Talich are deliberate rather than fleet and tripping. The Küchl seem to me to get the required mood of buoyancy just right. If lyricism is the keynote of these works then both the Franz Schubert and the Küchl are preferable. There is so often a soulful, singing, almost operatic quality to Mozart’s musical line. This is evident from the moment K.575 launches into the soaring first subject.
 
A few small caveats: for those to whom such things matter, the Küchl avoid repeats in both the Andante with variations and the final movement of K.590. Secondly, the CD is short measure at 48 minutes. Finally, there is a misprint in the track-listing: that same second movement of K.590 is marked “Allegretto” when it should be “Andante”.
 
Otherwise, there is absolutely nothing about this disc not to like.  

Ralph Moore