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Monday, August 4, 2014

Cuarteto Casals, Mozart, String Quartets Dedicated to Joseph Haydn

At the height of the classical period Joseph Haydn was virtually the unsurpassed master of the symphony and string quartet. It is certainly true looking back but it was also clear then to those in the know. Mozart studied his music and with the customary brilliance of his mature period produced three quartets of his own, making use of the structural innovations, thematic fullness and developmental acuity that Haydn stood for, at the same time adding his own personal lucidity.

We can hear all three in a nicely done set by the Cuarteto Casals, Mozart String Quartets Dedicated to Joseph Haydn (Harmonia Mundi 2186D 2-CDs). The Casals outfit we've happily encountered before on these pages (Haydn and Schubert, see search box). They shine brightly whatever they take on, but have an especially nice way with the classical era.

So here we have three Mozart gems, Quartets No. 14, No. 16, and No. 19 "Dissonances". The open bars of the Dissonance Quartet are some of the most remarkable music of the era for out-stepping the conventional bonds of the time and prophetically looking forward to our own modernity. You might also say the same thing of Mozart's "Musical Joke", but that is another story.

My only quibble is that Cuarteto Casals play down the dissonance contained in these few bars just a bit, so they seem a little less shocking to our ears. In any event the dissonance is resolved fairly quickly so Cuarteto Casals are perhaps being more faithful to the overall spirit of the music.

And the group makes up for it by splendid readings of all three quartets. This is supremely lively part writing in keeping with Haydn as Mozart extended him, and the Casals outfit shines with a bend of voices that stands out as very well wrought. Their well-measured brio is virtually unparalleled.

This is an extraordinarily well-rounded vision of the quartets. Cuarteto Casals do not stint on feeling, but neither do they overstate! And they come through with some exceptional bravura. It's a set of performances that fit our times admirably.

The set is not officially out here in the States until August 12, but you can pre-order it on Amazon. Paste the following link into your browser to do that. Or go to itunes and get all or part of the set as a DL. Right now one track is available. On August 12th you'll be able to grab the whole thing. Very recommended.

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