Thomas Duis / Mannheim String Quartet

Mozart: Sestetto Concertante; Quartetto

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Quite a few recordings have been made of the many arrangements of Classical-period works, published in the 19th century for home use. Such recordings are historically authentic in the truest sense, for many people got to know the music of Haydn, Mozart, and even Beethoven and later composers this way. They're always intriguing to hear, and this one, from the Mannheim String Quartet, stands somewhat apart from the rest. The two arrangements heard here, of the Sinfonia Concertante for violin, viola, and orchestra in E flat major, K. 364, and the Clarinet Quintet in A major, K. 581, both appeared in Vienna in the early 19th century; the arrangers are unknown. Generally the appeal of such arrangements lies in the ingenuity with which the original is reproduced as nearly as possible with reduced forces, but these two do not take that as their aim. In both, the original work is considerably rewritten. The tones themselves are sacrosanct (or at least as much so as possible), but their instrumental deployment and phrasing are fair game for changes. The altered state is especially noticeable in the case of the Sinfonia Concertante, where the work's essential concerto quality is discarded; the solo material is distributed among the two violins, two violas, and the cello in the string sextet setting, with only the double bass playing a purely "orchestral" role. The big first and second movements of the work, which depend in Mozart's original on a carefully built-up architecture of contrasts, tend to drag, and this is not the fault of the players. There is some redistribution of the clarinet's material in the Clarinet Quintet, as well, mostly in the final set of variations, but this arrangement has an elusive X factor that makes it work, connected with the way the piano brings out the dancelike rhythms in the piece. As usual with the MDG label, the sound is a major attraction in itself; the monastery farmhouse the label favors for chamber music makes the Mannheim group sound like a million Euros, and the performances are lively, well-considered, and accurate. Probably of more interest to specialists than to general listeners, this is an offbeat item that bears on Mozart's reception history.

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