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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Early String Quartets - Volume 3
String Quartet No. 5 in F major, K158 (1772/73) [16:18]
String Quartet No. 7 in E flat major, K160 (1772/3) [13:30]
String Quartet No. 12 in B flat major, K172 (1773) [17:41]
String Quartet No. 11 in E flat major, K171 (1773) [16:48]
Leipzig String Quartet (Conrad Muck (violin), Tilman Büning (violin), Ivo Bauer (viola),
Matthias Moosdorf (cello))
rec. 2017, Konzerthaus der Abtei Marienmünster
MDG 3072044-2 [64:46]

I first properly became aware of the precocious brilliance of Mozart’s teenage string quartets via the Hagen Quartet’s complete edition on Deutsche Grammophon, and have kept an eye out for new recordings ever since. For some reason the first two volumes of the Leipzig Quartet’s MDG set have passed us by so far, but on the evidence of this third volume the first two will be well worth collecting.

Recorded in a sympathetically roomy but not overly reverberant acoustic, each member of the Leipzig Quartet other than the viola has an instrument that would already have been in use in Mozart’s day, and the sound both collectively is very appealing indeed. They have recorded Haydn, Ravel and many others, and since being founded in 1988 have carved a significant place for themselves in the chamber music world. Connoisseurs may be interested to know that Conrad Muck took over Andreas Seidel as first violin as recently as 2016, though this chair is alternated with Tilman Büning in this particular recording.

The quartets K.155-160 are known as the ‘Milanese Quartets’ as they were written during Mozart’s second trip to Italy. The parts are nicely balanced in these refined and entertaining works, and there is plenty of amicable dialogue amidst the quartet texture. The lovely K.172 and K171 quartets were composed during a short stay in Vienna in 1773 and are in a more ambitious four movement form with several innovations. The string quartet genre was brand new at this time so there was always space for experiment, and Mozart would always have been looking for ways to avoid boredom and mix things up a bit.

Mozart’s early quartets are more often to be found in complete editions such as that of the recommendable American String Quartet on the Nimbus label (review), appearing less frequently in separate discs. These MDG releases are therefore a welcome addition to the catalogue. I had a rummage around to see what I could find for comparison, but didn’t come up with much. The Éder Quartet’s recordings on the Naxos label are decent enough, but more distantly recorded than the Leipzig Quartet, so you have a more generalized sound – pleasant, but not particularly involving. The Hagen Quartet on Deutsche Grammophon is pretty hard to beat. Their balance between eloquent expression and poised control plus playful rhythmic charm is on full display in the contrasts of K. 171, one of the most intriguing pieces in this collection, with its Andante played on muted strings. The Leipzig Quartet has a similarly unified approach to vibrato and sonority and manage if anything to sound more spontaneous. In other words, this recording is right up there with the best, and if you are looking for these works as available beyond big box sets then the Leipzig Quartet’s Mozart is very much worth seeking out.

Dominy Clements


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