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Mozart: The Prussian Quartets

Chiaroscuro Quartet (BIS)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

The Prussian Quartets: String Quartets Nos 21-23
Chiaroscuro Quartet
BIS BIS-2558 (CD/SACD)   86:53 mins


Playing non vibrato has become  fashionable among string players today. What makes this release so impressive is how the Chiaroscuro Quartet’s playing operates beyond any feeling of tendentiousness in this area. They use gut strings (naturally), and deploy non vibrato as something close to a default position (naturally). Meanwhile their underlying musicianship is so superb that you find yourself absorbed in the mesmerising mastery of these works without any issues of style getting in the way.

The group’s collective tone is rounded and unexaggeratedly warm, with a gentle degree of vibrato emerging and flowering as each expressive moment requires. And the beautifully balanced interaction of all four players connects with how the music itself is written. Mozart composed these quartets in the hope of impressing the cello-playing Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia, so the cello’s role is of course prominent – a requirement counterbalanced, with unerring skill, by the many spotlit moments of melody given to the other instruments also. The D major Quartet’s winsome appeal here comes across as convincingly as the more complex interplay of its B flat major counterpart. Indicated section repeats are included, so that the longer F major Quartet here lasts almost 40 minutes. This imposing length seems to look ahead towards the musical world of Beethoven – a world suggested also by the feeling of unbuttoned happiness and freedom that these players so successfully convey in the finale.


Malcolm Hayes