Fine Arts Quartet / Frank Glazer / New York Woodwind Quintet

Mozart: Quintets K.452 & K.407; Oboe Quartet K.370

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Mozart: Quintets K.452 & K.407; Oboe Quartet K.370 Review

by James Manheim

This disc is part of a series of recordings originally issued on the small, independent Orion label in the 1960s and 1970s -- years when big labels and big stars ruled the classical scene. Now that classical music is in the hands of small independents, fighting for its life (and perhaps emerging stronger as a result), Canada's Marquis label is reissuing the original Orion series. The modest yet extremely lively performances of Mozart chamber music recorded here are great examples of what a small label can do best. The players are not big names. Hornist John Barrows did not have the absolute confidence of intonation that, say, Dennis Brain did, and the Fine Arts Quartet was not a perfectly well-oiled machine. Yet together they get deeper into the spirit of gentle playfulness in Mozart's Quintet in E flat for horn and strings, K. 407, than nearly any other group. Sample the final rondo for their uncanny grasp of the way Mozart times the revolving entrances of the individual instruments, evoking groups of kids peeking around corners. The performance is, at times, laugh-out-loud funny, which performances of Mozart too rarely are. The melancholy of the Quartet for oboe and strings, K. 370, is rendered with similar sensitivity. The final Piano Quintet in E flat, K. 452, is marred by harsh sound and persistent tape hiss; if Orion was supposed to be an audiophile label, they must have disappointed audiophiles in this instance. The disc is worth having, though, for the two small works for wind and strings -- quintessentially Mozartian pieces, rendered here in an intimate groove that the big chamber ensembles of four decades ago wouldn't have been able to relax and find.

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