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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Complete Flute Quartets
Quartet for flute and string trio in D, K285 (1777) [14:04]
Quartet for flute and string trio in G, K285a (1778) [10:25]
Quartet for flute and string trio in A, K298 (1786-7) [11:31]
Quartet for flute and string trio in C, K285b (1777-8) [16:21]
Andante in C for flute and orchestra, K315 (1780) (arr. for flute and string trio, Mordechai Rechtman, 2000) [6:19]
Lisa Friend (flute)
Brodsky Quartet members: Daniel Rowland (violin), Paul Cassidy (viola), Jacqueline Thomas (cello)
rec. Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk, March 2016  
CHANDOS CHAN10932 [59:07]   

Mozart's Flute Quartet in D opens and closes in an atmosphere of irrepressible gaiety. From her scampering start, flautist Lisa Friend shows us she fully intends to make the most of it. And, while the string trio is largely in a supportive role, their comments and the Brodsky Quartet's crisp articulation are an integral part of the energizing. The violin and viola indeed introduce the movement's second (tr. 1, 0:26) and fourth (1:22) themes on which the flute expatiates. The spacious development (4:05) finds the flute soaring while the violin and viola extend the second theme. This is the only Mozart flute quartet with an Adagio slow movement, in Friend's hands an unexpectedly searching and quite wistful flute cantilena accompanied by pizzicato strings. She moves this along, keeping everything “in the moment” and avoiding any hint of sentimentality yet still succeeds in immersing us in another world from the outer movements, one of contemplation which Mozart himself cannot resolve, so he dismisses it by ending the movement in mid-air. Thereafter the rondo finale is all merry japes in which the violin offers its own melodic stimulus, presenting variations on this after the rondo's second group of episodes. Towards the end flute and violin sometimes present material together, Friend and Daniel Rowland fully embracing the roistering fun. I compared the classic 1969 recording by William Bennett and the Grumiaux Trio (Eloquence ELQ 4428289). While a touch faster in all movements, they are also more elegant, yet with less of a sense of abandon than Friend and the Brodskys, the latter emphasising more the changes of mood, for instance in the first movement development. Bennett's playing in the slow movement is more limpid yet also less emotive.

Ten years later comes the Flute Quartet in A, a pleasantly pointed work whose Haydnesque qualities Friend and the Brodskys emphasise. The first movement offers a homely theme and four variations. In Variation 1 (tr. 6, 1:20) the flute delights in breaking free in airborne escape. In Variation 2 (2:54) the violin sports running semiquavers against the sustained notes of flute and viola. In Variation 3 (3:45) it is the viola in the limelight generating the momentum. In Variation 4 (5:00) the tune appears creamily in the flute irrespective of the high jinks provided by the cello. Friend/Brodskys honour the presentation of the theme in an atmosphere of a grateful domestic hearth until in Variation 1 the flute lets in the sunlight. Again slightly faster throughout, Bennett/Grumiaux Trio are more outgoing and chirpy. In Variation 2 I felt Rowland’s violin understated in comparison with Arthur Grumiaux’s but in Variation 3 the Brodsky’s viola, Paul Cassidy, and jovially accompanying others are more evenly balanced. In Variation 4, however, from the cello I personally prefer the sprightlier articulation from the Grumiaux Trio’s Eva Czako to the contentedly laid-back Jacqueline Thomas of the Brodskys. The second movement Minuet has the flute and violin largely in duet, with the violin a third lower and the flute allowed to fly higher at the end of both strains; but in the Trio the flute twirls its independent dance. To this latter feature Bennett brings more sense of fun than Friend. The finale is an intricate rondo which again allows the flute access to the stratosphere and Friend is joyous in her liberation, yet here also the interplay between the instruments is extensive and deft, for instance in the first episode (tr. 8, 1:14). To the entire movement Friend/Brodskys bring a satisfyingly regal glow through their approach steadier than Bennett/Grumiaux Trio.

The attribution to Mozart of the two other flute quartets is questionable: listen and decide for yourself! The first movement of the Flute Quartet in C gets vivacious and cheery advocacy from Friend and the Brodskys, with good interplay and sometimes pairing of flute and violin. What does sound uncharacteristically fussily awkward are two passages for strings in the development (tr. 9, 3:23 and 3:39), though Bennett and the Grumiaux Trio give them a more convincing edge. The second movement is an arrangement of the variations movement of the Serenade, K361. Would Mozart reduce a piece for 13 wind instruments to flute with 3 strings? Well, the structural, rhythmic and harmonic clarity gained and the way Friend and the Brodskys savour the music, bringing out lovely details, convinced me he might. I liked the cool pathos of Variation 4 in C minor (tr. 10, 5:30) and was captivated by the flute's soaring on the top line in Variation 5 (7:06). Timing at 9:30 to Friend/Brodskys 10:38, Bennett/Grumiaux Trio are equally convincing in their jauntier, benignly animated approach within which Variation 4 is a time to pause and ponder, Variation 5 poised and beauteous, albeit without the feel of summation that Friend/Brodskys bring to it.

Friend and the Brodskys also persuaded me that the Flute Quartet in G had plenty of Mozartian quality. Timing at 7:04 their opening Andante is relatively leisurely but I feel this is right for its ruminative, lovingly contoured, nature. At 6:07 Bennett/Grumiaux Trio force the ideas forward, bringing a tension that is not in this reflective piece. It is rather repetitive, but this gives opportunities for solos for all the strings. The second theme (tr. 4, 0:35) takes an age to get going and is only finally completed by the flute. A novel feature is a shortened recapitulation firstly of the second theme (5:07), then the third (5:36) and finally the first (6:35) serving as coda. The second movement, marked Tempo di Menuetto, allows the flute more independence from the strings. It begins quietly florid, with a sprightlier second section and graceful coda that rounds things off decorously. I prefer Friend/Brodskys more tempered approach to its dynamic contrasts than Bennett/Grumiaux Trio.

This Chandos CD bonus, the Andante in C (tr. 11) again shows Mozart’s magic in highlighting the flute’s capabilities. All right, Mozart wrote it for flute and orchestra, but Mordechai Rechtman’s arrangement and this performance brings great clarity to the structure and scoring of the piece. The bluesy rising chromatic note at the end of the first phrase injects a touch of yearning early but with single instruments you are more likely to notice the cello’s answering falling chromaticism at 0:22. Effectively the flute presents 3 themes: a warm, florid one at the outset, a more clouded one at 0:47, then a more companionable one at 1:15. To emphasise this latter characteristic the violin gets to take up this theme, but not its soaring passage which has an element of melancholy. This is for the flute alone as is the similarly searching development, here given piquancy. Lisa Friend relishes the role of dancer, considerably more mobile than the others. She has 25 seconds of cadenza near the end, straightforward and nicely turned. Are there losses by not hearing Mozart’s original scoring? I heard this in the 1988 recording by Irena Grafenauer with The Academy of St Martin in the Fields/Sir Neville Marriner (Philips 4757339, download only). Here the lilting warmth of the body of strings cushions the flow of the flute and the violins sigh silkily to the flute’s second theme. But the Brodsky’s violin here is more personal in its sympathy and their pizzicato passages introducing a fresh statement of melody, more intimate, give the piece more of the character of a serenade.

To sum up the disc, in their different way, I'd say these well-crafted Friend and the Brodskys' accounts are as good as the long-appreciated ones by Bennett and the Grumiaux Trio.
 
Michael Greenhalgh

 

 




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