Had it not been for Johann Michael Haydn (1737-1806), the underrated younger brother of Joseph Haydn, we might never have had these six life-enhancing works. It is sad that we have only one portrait of Michael, showing him as an elderly bewigged eminence. We need to recall that in 1773 he was in his mid-thirties and in his full vigour as a composer. On February 17 he completed his C-major Notturno or Quintet, for string quartet and extra viola. On March 13 Mozart and his father returned to Salzburg from Italy and the teenager must soon have heard – or even played – Haydn’s Quintet. Probably in the late-Spring he wrote his own first Quintet, the B-flat, K174, a charming work with the strings muted in the Adagio. On December 1 Haydn completed his G-major Quintet, a lovely piece with a particularly memorable Minuet. Mozart must have been equally struck by this Quintet, as he revised his own work, giving it a new Trio and a longer, stronger Finale. In the meantime he had spent two months in Vienna, where he would have been exposed to some of Joseph Haydn’s latest music. At this point we can leave Michael Haydn out of our calculations: his five Quintets are delightful but he does not give the two violas the independence that we hear from Mozart – who loved the instrument – and his Quintets have the character of Serenades. The last two, dating from 1786, have the title Divertimento.
The present set of Mozart’s Quintets features the all-female Klenke Quartet, who met as students in Weimar and made their debut in 1994. I came across them early in their career but have not heard much from them lately. They have recorded all of Mozart’s Quartets so this project, realised in the studios of SWR, is a natural progression. They are joined by one of their mentors, Harald Schoneweg, who was the original second violinist of the now defunct Cherubini Quartet: he sounds equally at home on the viola. The style of the group could be described as modern but with an awareness of period-instrument performance. They use vibrato more sparingly than most, and as a result the playing has a slightly austere aura, offset to an extent by a lively response to the music. Although they have three CDs at their disposal, they do not play all the repeats, which is a dereliction of duty. Mozart clearly wanted second repeats played in opening movements, as he did not ask for one in the C-major work, K515 – it would have made this lavishly laid-out movement overly long. Why should we be content with the Klenke Quartet’s 10:56 for the Allegro of the G-minor, K516, when the Quartetto Accardo can give us 15:45? There is very little music written by Mozart that I cannot bear to hear twice!
The Klenke members make a nice bright start to K174, despite the impression of senza vibrato. The Adagio is pleasingly played and the graceful Michael Haydn-style Minuet has its Trio, with echo effects, nicely done. The final Allegro is suitably sprightly. This work is rarely heard outside complete cycles but when it is taken seriously – though not too solemnly – it always makes an excellent start to the series.
Mozart’s next Quintet with two violas, from 1782, features the horn. He waited until 19 April 1787 before finishing his next String Quintet, the great C-major, K515. H. C. Robbins Landon speculates that the composer hoped to sell a set of three to Viennese amateurs by subscription, in manuscript copies, but in the end he had to sell K515 and K516 to a publisher. The musicians make a brisk start to the vast Allegro of K515; they keep up the conversation at this tempo but find room for little expressive touches. They gain points from the Mozart scholar Franz Beyer – and from me – by placing the Minuet second: the reasons in favour of this ordering are too complex to put in a review, but it is the same as the first printing, which Mozart certainly approved. They take the Minuet at a good tempo and the lavish Trio with excellent impetus. Unfortunately the first viola is not quite forward enough in the long Andante, so that the beautiful duets with the first violin are a little lopsided and some of the first viola’s notes are almost covered; it is a shame because the movement is well-paced. The Finale bubbles along nicely.
The opening movement of the G-minor, K516, dating from one month later, is played at a good brisk tempo. The Minuet is also well-paced, with a fair helping of senza vibrato, but the chording is rather fierce. The great Adagio finds Mozart harking back to his debut Quintet and muting the instruments, a rare practice with him as I have mentioned. It is sensitively played, with good intonation, and the second viola’s little interventions are very ‘present’. Again the Adagio at the start of the Finale, one of Mozart’s finest inspirations, is very sensitively done; and the players move pleasingly into the ‘boys and girls come out to play’ Allegro.
Somehow the C-minor, K406, was given a confusing Köchel number and the substitute, K516b, is no help. Mozart produced it in the Winter of 1787-88 to complete his set of three; and rather than write a new piece he arranged his great C-minor Serenade for wind octet, K388, for the five stringed instruments. The job is so well done that one misses the winds in only one or two places. In this work the Klenkes’ aversion to second repeats results in a first movement of only 8:12 compared with the Accardo’s fourteen. Even allowing for the Italians’ slower tempo, one feels a little short-changed. The Klenkes make a slightly lugubrious start but soon set out at a good tempo – and when the opening comes round again, they make less heavy weather of it. They take a nice grave attitude to the Andante and adopt a decent tempo for the canonic Minuet, but rather fail to integrate the inverse-canon Trio into it, so that the return of the Minuet is a trifle heavy. Robbins Landon points us to the Minuet of Haydn’s Symphony No.44 for the model for this Minuet. The Finale is a theme-and-variations: the Klenkes are robust in the first variation, exploratory in the second, inward in the third, robust in the fourth, graceful in the E-flat fifth, zippy in the sixth, suitably mysterious in the seventh and robust in the C-major variation and brief coda.
In the D-major, K593, from December 1790, the cello phrases in the opening question-and-answer are kept on a tight rein; the Allegro begins at a fairly easy tempo and the return of the question-and-answer and the final brief return of the Allegro are well done. The Adagio is gravely beautiful at the start, becoming more animated: it is eloquently played. The easy-tempo Minuet, incorporating another canon, has a Trio featuring the violins and cello. The Finale is a little controversial: the Klenkes play the chromatic version of the opening, whereas everyone used to perform Mozart’s second (diatonic) thought – the Amadeus recorded both versions. The Klenkes are quite robust with the contrapuntal writing in this marvellous movement, which can never decide whether it is skipping or jumping. It makes use of the little Baroque-style tag which later plays such a major role in the ‘Jupiter’ Symphony’s fugal Finale.
In the E-flat Quintet, K614, Mozart’s ultimate excursion into chamber music, he again seems to have had wind instruments on his mind: it begins with the violas playing a typical horn-call and the 6/8 time signature gives the opening movement a bucolic mood. The Klenkes choose a good tempo, allowing the first theme its outdoor character, and do not relax too much for the second subject; after the brief exposition repeat they plunge into the development but I could have done with the second repeat – they time at 7:35 to the Accardo’s 10:25. In this movement, for the first time, I catch a hint of stridency in the string tone. Their tempo for the Andante is not too slow, in fact it is almost too fast and misses some of the music’s essence. Many commentators have seen in this Quintet a tribute to Haydn, who was in England when it was composed in April 1791, and there are one or two Haydnesque features in the Minuet, where the Klenkes impart a droning, folk-like quality to the very Viennese Trio and rather underplay it. The Haydnesque Finale has a good brisk tempo and the players enjoy the counterpoint, but I am left with the feeling that they have rather underestimated the entire work.
The discography of the Mozart Quintets is too voluminous to be summed up here, but a few highlights may be mentioned, starting with the somewhat abbreviated version of the G-minor by the London Quartet and Alfred Hobday on acoustic Columbia 78rpm discs. Recorded by Arthur Brooks in the top-floor studio at Clerkenwell Road and issued belatedly in 1920, it can be dated to 13 June 1917, when the first daylight Zeppelin raid took place. “We were startled by a loud report”, leader Albert Sammons recalled, “but thought it was nothing more than a burst motor tyre: but on hearing a second and louder report, and seeing people running about in the street below, we knew what was taking place. After all was over we returned to our work, and struck a lucky hit in making a splendid record of the work. I say lucky, because of the different position in the seating formation of the quintet. A lot is left to chance, when more than two players join forces, and are crowding into a small space with scarcely bowing room, etc.” In the 1930s the Quatuor Pro Arte co-opted Hobday again for typically light airy accounts of the best-known three Quintets. The Budapest Quartet members were at their best in their recordings with Milton Katims. LPs of four works by the Griller Quartet and William Primrose were spoilt by an insane tempo for the D-major’s Finale – Griller had set that tempo at the end of the previous day and Primrose had been unable to match it. When Griller adopted a more sensible speed next morning, Primrose, who had clearly been practising half the night, insisted on the fast one! I have had much pleasure over the years from the Amadeus Quartet’s various versions with Cecil Aronowitz. Live versions of five Quintets from the 1960s, with the Juilliard Quartet and Walter Trampler, are worth exploring. Digital sets that find a place on my shelves include (mentioning just the quartet groups), the Kuijken (period instruments), Melos and Sine Nomine; the Nash Ensemble and the Vienna String Quintet.The Australian Quartet and Katharine Brockman made an exceptional version of the G-minor in 1996, with an ethereal Adagio. My overall favourite performances are those by the Smetana Quartet with Josef Suk as first viola.
I must say a little more about the Accardo Mozart series, which was on the Nuova Era label and bore the logos of both RAI and Martini & Rossi, implying that they provided sponsorship. I recently dug out the disc of K406 and K516 and listened first to the latter. With all the repeats, the timings are 15:45, 5:20, 9:37 and 10:37 and the movements are not a note too long. The tempos are truly giusto and to have Salvatore Accardo on the top line is a treat – the other players are the members of his Quartet, Margaret Batjer, Toby Hoffman and Rocco Filippini, with Cynthia Phelps as second viola. The recordings were made in Mantua in 1988 with a group of well-known Italians as producer, engineers and so on. I then listened to K406, which can make one pine for the wind version but does not on this occasion. It is lovely: the Andante is on the slow side, but beautifully sustained, and one could write a brief essay just on the Finale, from Accardo’s wonderful intonation at the start to the delicate slowing for the ‘horns’ passage on the violas in Variation V. Besides the six String Quintets, the series includes a disc of the two Duos (violin and viola) and Eine kleine Nachtmusik (with Franco Petracchi on bass), one of the Divertimento for String Trio, K563, and the Adagio & Fugue, and one of the Clarinet and Horn Quintets.