MOZART: Piano Quartets in g and E-flat – Mozart Piano Quartet – MD&G Multichannel SACD (and 2+2+2) 943 1579, 66:50 [Distr. by E1] ***1/2:
It’s hard to believe that Mozart’s piano quartets met with a hostile beginning, but that’s exactly what happened. They were considered to be avantgarde, for specialists only, and not at all conducive to the general public. In fact, Mozart’s original commission from fellow composer and publisher Anton Hoffmeister was for three quartets, but after the first one flopped Hoffmeister let him out of the contract for full price (this is how bad the publisher wanted to not publish the other works) and Mozart eventually found another publisher for the E-flat quartet—a third was never written. Up to that point piano quartets were essentially show-off pieces for the pianist, only a grade above—if that—common garden and table entertainment. Mozart being Mozart, things changed quickly, and the genre would later become a staple of the Romantic Movement, though the more popular piano trio never lost its footing.
This new release by the equally new Mozart Piano Quartet (founded 2000) has much to offer, including rethought articulation and a reinvigorated sense of classical style—almost Beethovenian—that presents the pieces in a more rigorous light. I can’t say that they surpass everything to this point—there are too many good ones out there, including my favorite, Stern-Laredo-Ma-Istomin on Sony, but this group has a firm grasp of what it means to play Mozart, and puts it forth admirably.
I am slightly disappointed with the sound, surrounding properly but sitting a little tubby and lacking some needed definition, so while it may not be of demonstration SACD quality it sounds as good or better than the aforementioned Sony, and is well worth considering if you are in the market for both of the quartets on one disc. Another choice for period fanciers might be the Malcolm Bilson recording from years back on Archiv, despite the pianoforte a fine reading.
— Steven Ritter