Wednesday 22 October 2014

Very fine performances indeed from Cuarteto Casals on a new release from Harmonia Mundi featuring three of Mozart’s Haydn Quartets

Cuarteto Casals was founded in 1997 at the Escuela Reina Sofía in Madrid. Since winning First Prizes at the London and Brahms-Hamburg competitions, Cuarteto Casals has been a repeated guest at the world’s most prestigious concert halls including Wigmore Hall, Carnegie Hall, Musikverein Vienna, Philharmonie Cologne, Cité de la Musique Paris, Schubertiade in Schwarzenberg, Concertgebouw Amsterdam and the Philharmonie in Berlin, among many others throughout Europe, North America and Japan.

The Quartet has compiled a substantial discography for Harmonia Mundi including repertoire ranging from lesser known Spanish composers Arriaga and Toldrá to Mozart, Haydn, Schubert and Brahms, through to Bartok, Kurtag and Ligeti.

Their latest release from Harmonia Mundi features three of the six string quartets that Mozart dedicated to Joseph Haydn, String Quartet No. 14 in G major, K.387, String Quartet No. 16 in E flat major, K.428 and String Quartet No. 19 in C major, K.465.
HMC 902186

It was his friendship with Haydn and the latter’s publication of his Op.33 quartets that almost certainly led to Mozart’s undertaking the writing of the six quartets dedicated to the older composer. They did not come easily or quickly, dating from December 1782 to January 1785, indeed, he spoke of them as ‘the fruit of a long and laborious effort’. On this recording we have the first of the set, in G major and last, in C major framing the third in E flat major.

The Allegro vivace assai of String Quartet No. 14 in G major, K.387 (1782) is nicely shaped and phrased, often with a gentle buoyancy. The Cuarteto Casals show fine observations of dynamics bringing a classical charm and style to this music, yet with moments of spontaneity in the way they draw certain phrases.

There is a lovely sweep to the Menuetto. Allegro, again with nicely observed dynamics, followed by some terrific incisive playing in the Trio section. This movement is beautifully done with such a light touch in the coda.

In his excellent booklet note Andreas Friesenhagen tells us that the tempo marking for this movement, Allegro, is unusual in that it differs from the Allegretto customary in Minuets. This is interesting given that my sources show that all of the Menuetto movements in these three quartets are shown, in their autograph scores, as Menuetto. Allegro and only became shown as Menuetto. Allegretto in the First Edition published by Artaria in 1785. Either way the Casals certainly bring much lithe playing to these movements.

The Quartet brings some lovely sonorities to the Andante cantabile with the theme shared around the players and with a lovely melody for the first violin, richly delivered here. There are some exquisitely hushed passages rising to some lovely unison playing with, again, a lovely rubato.

The Molto allegro takes off gently with playing of the upmost delicacy before soon gaining in dynamics as this Quartet push ahead, full of lightness and joy with some very fine playing in the fugal passages, such a light and sparkling touch and a beautifully handled coda.

The Allegro non Troppo of String Quartet No. 16 in E flat major, K.428/421b has a gentle, mellow opening from the Casals before the music increases in dynamics. This Quartet handles the changes in dynamics, the little bursts of energy, so well together with some beautifully long drawn phrases.

There are some lovely long drawn phrases in the Andante con moto that reveal the many beauties of this movement. There is a natural flow with lovely dynamics, a natural rise and fall, with many lovely subtle touches in the hushed moments.

There are some terrific, crisp phrases in the rhythmic Menuetto. Allegro with such fine transparency and clarity, before a beautifully heartfelt Trio section showing what a lovely Minuet and Trio this is. There is so much fine playing from this Quartet whose lovely touch brings so much to the music, observing every nuance.

There is some fine interplay between these artists in the Allegro Vivace, full of charm and joy and with a very fine and beautifully judged coda.

A lovely opening with Mozart’s strangely dissonant Adagio of String Quartet No. 19 in C major, K.465 ‘Dissonance’ the only reason for the subtitle. Mozart is really pushing the bounds in this last of his Haydn Quartets. Cuarteto Casals bring a light touch as the Allegro arrives, soon given a richer edge. There are some fine passages, rich in texture and full of terrific articulation in the faster, more intricate passages.

Mozart’s exquisite Andante cantabile allows the Casals to bring all their sensitivity to every little nuance with a lovely warmth and some beautifully hushed passages.

There is a lightly sprung Menuetto. Allegro with lovely textures in the more dynamic moments with the Casals nicely contrasting the dynamics. The livelier Trio section seems to acquire a more intense edge nicely brought out by this Quartet giving a rather anxious feeling before the Minuetto returns to lead to the coda.

The Allegro molto speeds ahead with more felicitous playing from the Casals, fine dynamics, crisp incisive playing as well as a lightness and transparency that highlights many little details.

These are very fine performances indeed, with playing that is dynamic, transparent, and crisp whilst always finding the poetic moments.

They are finely recorded at the Teldex Studio, Berlin, Germany though I detected a very brief moment of mushy noise just before the Quartet open the first track on the disc. This in no way affects the recording and does not reoccur.

There are excellent booklet notes and the playing time is a very generous  82 minutes.

I do hope that the Cuarteto Casals will give us the three remaining Haydn quartets which one expects they will.  

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