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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Prussian String Quartets
String Quartet No. 21 in D Major, K. 575 (1789) [21:36]
String Quartet No. 22 in B-flat Major, K. 589 (1790) [20:51]
String Quartet No. 23 in F Major, K. 590 (1790) [25:04]
Engegård Quartet
rec. 2015, Solsiden Church, Frederikstad, Norway

Mozart wrote his last three string quartets for the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm II. These splendid performances by the Engegård Quartet reinforce their status as my favorites among his quartets.

Mozart began work on the Prussian quartets around the same time as his Clarinet Quintet, K. 581, and they are often played as kin to that sublimely serious work, with a kind of serene languor. The Engegård Quartet takes a different approach, reminding us that Mozart was a young man of thirty-three, unaware that he was writing “late” Mozart. The result is fresh in all ways: vigorous, direct, unjaded, and sometimes mocking.

The D major quartet K. 575 exemplifies these qualities. The opening Allegretto is fleet and suave. The Engegård Quartet underscores its operatic aspect, reminding us that the author also wrote Cosi fan tutte and The Marriage of Figaro. The Andante shows classical restraint when other ensembles might milk the melody for another ounce of sentiment. The off-beat accents of the Menuetto wink at its sophisticated audience, including of course the King. The final Italianate Allegretto sings with easy joy.

In the opening Allegro moderato of the F major quartet K. 590, the Engegårds choose drama over seamless mellifluousness. A fast pace reduces the Andante’s grandeur, but enhances the playful side of Mozart’s decorative variations. The final Allegro shows clear contrast between fortes and pianos, and turns rather serious in the darker episodes of the rondo.

The B flat major quartet K. 589 continues in the same vein, generally lighter than most interpretations, although the Engegård’s Larghetto is as melting as any.

The Engegårds play with normal vibrato and a clearly focused sound, satisfyingly captured by LAWO engineers. Morten Carlsen’s fine notes are not about musical passages, but political and social ones, especially the cultural relations between Prussia and Austria.

There should have been a set of six quartets, but the Prussian court did not pay Mozart, who moved on to other projects. We should rejoice in the three he completed, especially in such spirited performances as these.

Richard Kraus



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