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on June 7, 2011 (June 7, 2011)
The Jerusalem Quartet
Harmonia Mundi HMC 902076
These are invigorating accounts of three Mozart string quartets that neatly encapsulate the history of his writing for this musical medium. Mozart’s string quartets fall into three major brackets of works spread over 17 or 18 years, each represented here. The first quartet K157 in C major dates from 1772, when Mozart was just 17 years old. The quartet form was undergoing rapid development at this stage and Mozart, fresh from his musical explorations across Europe, was brimming with ideas.
His youthful zest is already tempered by deep reflection, as shown in the astonishing depth of the Allegro which makes up the first movement. His prodigious development as a musician is reflected in the clutch of works known as the “Haydn” quartets. Here is Mozart in 1784, not quite 30 but already in his full maturity as a composer. The performance here of the Hunt quartet (K458) shows why this bracket of quartets is regarded as the finest he ever wrote.
Mozart evidently thought he had pretty well exhausted his explorations of the genre, for although he was later commissioned to write a further set, he never completed the proposed cycle. Here from that final series is one of his three Prussian quartets (K589), which is every bit as masterful and inventive as the more popular early quartets.
The Jerusalem Quartet play with attractive brio. Although they don’t perform on period instruments, they have a lightness and almost vibrato-free quality in keeping with that style. The album is very closely recorded and I found it necessary to rein in the volume to keep a pleasant musical balance. At normal listening levels, the spotlight on individual instruments seemed too bright and hard, so be prepared to tone it down.