Some of this music is among the most sublime Mozart ever wrote - the later string quintets and the wonderful Divertimento - and it is all totally absorbing. Here it receives playing and recording which approach perfection. These are famous performances which have been around for many years, but they were made at a time when Phillips recording was the benchmark for natural spaciousness and aural truthfulness, so that while they are 'historic ' in a sense, no allowances need to be made for the sound. Arthur Grumiaux, the great Belgian violinist, is at the centre of it all, but this is true chamber playing, with balance well-judged and all the players aware of the music as a whole. Very warmly recommended.
If I had to name the three greatest works of chamber music that even Mozart ever produced, I don't think it would take me long to nominate the string quintets in C major and G minor and the Divertimento for string trio. Mozart loved the viola, he played the viola, and an extra viola on top of the standard string quartet drew wonders from him. Wonders were his day-to-day modus operandi of course, but I doubt that in his entire output he ever composed anything more astounding than the great and lengthy work he produced for a combination that lacked not only any second viola but even the usual second violin.
The recordings of the quintets are from 1974 with digital remastering. There is a certain amount of the `edginess' to the sound that I often associate with this process, but it does not amount to much and after a few hearings I had forgotten about it. In no way does it come between me and my enjoyment of some outstanding Mozart playing on this 3-disc set. There is only one single movement in all the 24 that make up the quintets that raises any significant doubts in my mind, and it is the first movement of the C minor. This is the composer's own arrangement of his great `serenade' for wind instruments K388 (the title chosen because Mozart did not know the term `octet') and Grumiaux and his partners elect to give it the fast-and-uneasy treatment often given to the first movement of Mozart's piano concerto in the same key. There is considerable weight of scholarly opinion behind this way of doing it, but I'm still inclined to welcome a more relaxed approach, such as I know from an interesting re-arrangement by Holliger with his oboe in place of the first violin. For me Holliger's slightly slower tempo enhances the solemnity of the movement, and it does wonders for what is already wonderful, the melody of the second subject. Otherwise I cannot speak too highly of the interpretations that we are offered here. The quintet K174 is given with the self-assurance that suits this delightful early work, extra gravitas of course attends the mature masterpieces, the slow movements of the other four quintets are sublime (with wonderful muted sound in the G minor), and Mozart's final tribute to his great mentor Haydn in the E flat quintet has all the poise and elegance I could wish for.
The Divertimento is from 1967, and the sound is not quite so good, although I have no major complaint to make. It puts this account at a slight disadvantage against a superb performance of this miracle of a work by Gidon Kremer, Kim Kashkashian and Yo-yo Ma; but that, of course, does not bring us all the other quintets at a very attractive price as this set does. In the first movement I still miss Kremer's wonderful and bold phrasing, but I doubt that I ever heard the celestial final rondo better done than it is here, by Kremer and co or by anyone.
Even the liner-notes are rather good. I wonder whether the general standard of these is looking up (a few years ago I would have said it badly needed to) or whether I have simply been lucky in this regard with my more recent purchases. There is a picture of the Grumiaux trio, but none of their two collaborators in the quintets, so let me close by highlighting the names of Arpad Gerecz and Max Lesueur for their fine contribution to what can fairly be called an outstanding set.
on 17 November 2007
I know I am not saying anything new if I say that the Mozart String Quintets are stunningly beautiful. They are filled with such an incredible (and at times unsettling) range of different emotions, including sadness and angst. The String Quintets in C Major (K. 515) and G Minor (K. 516) are my absolute favorites. The playing on this set is elegant and smooth. Highly recommended.
on 20 February 2014
Distant vistas of the mind and the human heart unfold in this sweet, strange music. Mozart touches the wandering loveliness of the spirit. He takes you on journeys you would never have thought you could ever find. Surging on and on, travelling to and beyond the the limits of thought. The sad and the gay loveliness of this wonderful explorer of so much of our humanity. Beautifully interpreted for us here.
on 29 March 2013
This is perfection. Certainy some of the greatest music ever written, the C major and G minor Quintets are sublime, and the String Trio Divertimento, is one of Mozart's major masterpieces. Performances could not be bettered, and the recording from 1967 and 1973 still sound excelllent.
on 18 April 2012
These quintets are simply lovely; I have listened to them over a dozen times since the package came. I'm not much of a Mozart fan but I'm hooked on his chamber music, so the Grumiaux trio, Gerecz Arpad and Max Lesueur have done me proud. Terrific music and a nice cover, too.