Mozart: String Quartets K465 and K499 (CD review)

K465 "Dissonance" and K499 "Hoffmeister." Belcea Quartet.  EMI 0946 3 44455 2.

I could listen to this stuff all day. In fact, I have. Mostly, though, I remember listening to light, Mozartian music almost every day after work for almost forty years until I retired from teaching. I would look forward to that hour or so after I got home (and before my wife returned from her job) as a time of utter relaxation and contentment, a momentary world apart. The Belcea Quartet's recording of two of Mozart's best-loved chamber works fits right into my new schedule, even if I now have any and all parts of the day to listen to it.

The first of the two works on the disc, K465, the "Dissonance" Quartet (1785), acquired its name because of the nature of its slow introduction, not because of any cacophonous or inharmonious qualities. My Random House Unabridged Dictionary defines this kind of "dissonance" best as "a combination of tones conventionally accepted as being in a state of unrest and needing completion." In other words, we're waiting for the real joy of Mozart to kick in. When it does, which is within a few minutes, the piece is almost as cheery and delightful as the even more tuneful K499 "Hoffmeister" Quartet (1786) that follows it, so named more simply because the composer and publisher Franz Anton Hoffmeister first printed it up.

The booklet note says that the Alban Berg Quartet, among others, coached the young members of the Belcea Quartet, so I thought it appropriate to play the Alban Berg group's rendition of K465 on Teldec for comparison. The performances are remarkably alike, aside from the matter of repeats. Both ensembles take the work at moderate tempos, never too fast or awkward, never too broadly expansive; and the slow movement of K465 is equally lovely and enchanting in both recordings. The biggest differences are in matters of dynamics, where the Belcea players prefer stronger contrasts, and in the character of the recording, where the EMI disc sounds marginally smoother and fuller than the brighter Teldec disc. In any case, it's wonderful music, wonderfully played.

JJP

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa