Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
String Quartets, Volume 1
Quartet in B flat major, K. 458 "The Hunt" (1784) [31:39]
Quartet in C major, K. 465 "The Dissonance" (1785) [38:33]
Adagio & Fugue in C minor, K. 546 (1788) [7:17] *
The Coull Quartet
Recorded St. Paul's Church, Birmingham, September 2003, July 2004 *
Somm SOMMCD 040 [77:44]
Comparisons: The Lindsays/ASV, Quartetto Italiano/Philips, Alban Berg
String Quartet/EMI, Kocian Quartet/Denon
During the period 1782 to 1785, Mozart composed six string quartets that
he dedicated to Joseph Haydn. These "Haydn" Quartets are Mozart's most
popular forays into the string quartet genre, and dedicated listening
tells why: perfect architecture, gorgeous melodic lines, a wide-ranging
emotional content for the time period, and compelling thematic development.
For their first volume of Mozart string quartets, the Coull Quartet
offers the two 'named' works in the Haydn set along with the less
well-known and rather severe Adagio and Fugue in C minor.
The Coull Quartet's peformances fit into a very common classification:
fine performances of frequently recorded music that are overshadowed
by exceptional interpretations. In isolation, the Coull Quartet offers
very satisfying interpretations highlighted by moderate to quick tempos,
exuberant outer movements, an abundance of rhythmic vitality, poignant
and comforting slow movements, and a superb display of Mozart's playful
nature. I particularly love the sun-drenched phrasing the group conveys
in the Hunt Quartet's 1st Movement and the loving security offered in
the 2nd Movement Andante cantabile from the Dissonance Quartet. Also,
the disc is generously filled-out with a compelling interpretation of
the Adagio and Fugue in C minor that fully conveys the austerity, dotted
rhythms, jagged musical lines, and baroque foundation of the work.
However, a few nagging doubts stand out when the comparison versions
are considered. The Kocian Quartet gives the two works a glowing warmth
that is very appealing; the Coull Quartet's readings are somewhat cool
and exhibit a rather thin tone. Coolness also informs the performances
of the Alban Berg String Quartet, but their outer movements have an extra
degree of exuberance not found in the Coull's interpretations. Listening
to the Lindsays, the wonderful expressiveness of Mozart's music fully
takes shape as opposed to the Coull Quartet's partial success; although
perfect intonation is not a strong suit of the Lindsays, their depth of
expression has no peers.
My primary issue with the Coull Quartet's readings concerns 1st violinist
Roger Coull's performances. He often displays weak projection and a
wiry tone. Switch to the Quartetto Italiano's Paolo Borciani and we
hear gorgeous and rich playing of strong projection and expressive detail.
And it isn't only Borciani who offers the more rewarding interpretations;
each of the other three 1st violinists in the comparison versions conveys
a greater breadth of emotional response and beauty of tone than Coull.
I might be a bit too hard on the performances, but I expected more from
the Coull Quartet based on some wonderful recordings the group has made
of the chamber music of Mendelssohn, Walton, Elgar, Bridge, and Simpson.
Of course, Mozart is an entirely different composer from an earlier era,
and I do feel that the performances do not generally strike to the heart
of the music except for its playful character.
Don's Conclusions: A new full-priced disc of famous Mozart string quartets
needs to be rather special to compete with the host of superb alternative
recordings on the market, many of them offered at less than premium
price. Unfortunately, I do not detect special qualities in the Coull's
Volume 1. In this case, high quality performances cloaked in an admirable
and crisp soundstage do not win the day. Recommended only to dedicated
fans of the Coull Quartet or those who have a strong interest in the
Adagio and Fugue.
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