No one would deny the historical and musical significance of Chicago's Fine Arts Quartet. For WFMT in Chicago, Fine Arts gave many splendid radio broadcasts of chamber music in the early '50s through late '60s. Of course, the very idea of a string quartet broadcasting performances of chamber music on the radio now seems to belong to an incredibly ancient musical past, but in its time, the Fine Arts was crucial in attracting many people to the wonders of chamber music. After the radio stopped broadcasting live chamber music, the Fine Arts went on to tour and record through the early '80s, continuing its mission to bring chamber music to the people. But, perhaps inevitably, the group never reached the star status of later American quartets like the Guarneri or the Emerson, and, by the '70s, the Fine Arts was reduced to recording for budget labels like Vox.
It didn't matter. As these 1974 recordings of Mozart's string quintets demonstrate, the old fire still burned bright. Augmented here by superb violist Francis Tursi, the Fine Arts' performances are sensitive and soulful, powerful and passionate, heartfelt but never heart-on-the-sleeve. While dedicated listeners may prefer, say, Grumiaux's recordings with an augmented Grumiaux Trio for its stylish sublimity, the elegance, the grace, and above all the love that the Fine Arts Quartet and Tursi bring to Mozart's quintets is still worth hearing. Produced by first violinist Leonard Sorkin, these 30-year-old recordings sound as real now as they did then.