Philip Dukes / Nash Ensemble

Mozart: String Quintets

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Though not an especially popular genre at the time, Mozart turned to the string quintet (in its two-viola guise, unlike Boccherini's fondness for two cellos) at three distinct points in his career. The earliest, K. 174, stems from 1773 during Mozart's time in Vienna. More than a decade and a half passed before K. 515 and 516 were produced following the success of the six "Haydn" quartets and the K. 499 Quartet. The final pair of original quintets (K. 593 and 614) came just before the end of Mozart's life, with K. 614 being the last piece of chamber music he was to complete. There is also the K. 406 Quintet, a transcription of the C minor Wind Quintet. Mozart's fondness for the viola can be heard throughout these works, both in his use of the viola as a solo instrument to carry to the solo line and as an active, vigorous accompanying instrument. This Hyperion album features the Nash Ensemble joined by violist Philip Dukes. Regrettably, this is not one of the Nash Ensemble's finer showings. Despite all that Mozart gives the viola to do, neither of them can be heard through most of the three-disc set. Only when the viola carries the melody do the violins back off enough to allow the viola's rich sound to come through. When serving accompanimental functions (important ones, at that) both Dukes and Lawrence Power are all but absent, covered by the too-forceful violins. Intonation among the five members is not as careful and refined as listeners might expect from an ensemble of their repute. There are not as many options available for the quintets as there are for the quartets, but listeners may still find do better seeking a slightly more polished, well-balanced recording.

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