String Quintets, K515 & K516
Antoine Tamestit (viola), Quatuor Ébène
Erato 5419721332 71:15 mins
These quintets with two violas, written back-to-back in the spring of 1787, belong among the jewels of the chamber repertoire. Like Mozart’s last two symphonies, in the same two keys, they reveal opposing facets of his personality.
The G minor Quintet, K516, is one of his tragic masterpieces, reaching a peak of anguish in the slow introduction to its finale. Tension is relieved in the ensuing rondo, which is in the major; yet even here there is a strong undercurrent of yearning, well conveyed in the unhurried tempo adopted by the Quatuor Ébène and Antoine Tamestit. The C major work K515 is altogether brighter, though there’s no shortage of those heart-stopping moments that are uniquely Mozartian. Its slow movement is an almost operatic duet for the first violin and first viola – a reminder that Don Giovanni was just around the corner.
The performances on this new release are as accomplished as we would expect from players of this calibre. The steady tempo of the G minor work’s first movement allows the music’s aching dissonances to make their full effect, and the hushed atmosphere at the midpoint of the C major Quintet’s opening Allegro is superbly well handled. One or two changes of tempo mid-phrase in the slow movement of K516 may result from edits between takes at slightly different speeds; but the abrupt slowing down before the central episode in the finale of the C major work sounds rather fussy.