The Vienna Philharmonic could have played with Simon Rattle next door* in the Grosser Saal, I still would have chosen the Mozart-Saal at the Wiener Konzerthaus that Friday Night, December 13th. Because such are the expectations of the magnificent HIP foursome Quatuor Mosaïques, record heroes of my adolescence that had me in classical re-discovering ecstasies with their Haydn- and Mozart**. That’s an awful lot of upfront praise and a burden of expectations, setting me up for an all-too-easy underwhelming experience. You can’t win.
J.Haydn, String Quartets &
Seven Last Words,
W.G.Mozart, "Haydn" Quartets,
W.G.Mozart, Clarinet Quintet / Kegelstatt Trio,
If Boccherini is nice, Mozart is amazing. Even if the last four (Hoffmeister and Prussian) quartets lack the accessibility and popularity of the six Haydn quartets, K.589 in B flat major is a jewel where Boccherini is an amuse-gueule. Amid delicacy, finesse, and a soupçon of predictability, a bit of a kick might have served the two inner movements. Unhappily this coincided with a momentary but thorough desire for deep sleep which—though denied—did hamper the alertness of the senses. Then again, a good movement is always stronger than any nap-attack could be, and the last movement, with its little figurations that smirked cheekily, gave Mozart the drive to make up for the Larghetto and the Menuetto.
Dvořák is not yet part of the Quatuor Mosaïques’s discography—they’ve gone as far north as Mendelssohn—there’s no reason for a quartet not to play Dvořák only because they play earlier music well and with an eye to performance practice of the time. Just in case an musico-ideological person might claim overreach as a group, mentally confined to classicism, dare reaches out into the romantic world. Christophe Coïn particularly shone in the second movement, further underlining that the even group has no weak spot, indeed! (A touch more vigor from the viola, perhaps, would not have endangered the wonderful balance.)
In any case, Dvořák this sensitive, light (relatively), and delicate (relatively) I do want to hear and I care not by whom. Stormy passages need not be pushed mercilessly to work well, they just need sufficient contrast from their surroundings in order to work. And that they got in spades. And what zip, what rhythmic freedom in the finale! You could hear whips crack, beer-steins clink, and the wooden floor give under nailed dancing boots. Joyous!
They stuck with Dvořák for the encore: The eleventh Cypress in the arrangement for string quartet put another jolt into a very grateful and lucky audience.
* That’s easy to say, given that that coupling’s actual performance the day before, wasn’t all that. As it was, Heinrich Schiff was conducting (or something that looked like it) the ORF Symphony Orchestra… and that made the decision easier, despite the tantalizing sub-aspect of hearing the rising Christian Poltéra in the Lutosławski Cello Concerto.
** Their complete Haydn has been re-issued this year, for the first time in one box, after earlier re-issues seem to have sold out within months.