MOZART String Quartets Nos 4, 17 & 22
“Rather prim and formal throughout, and presents little variety in its part-writing” – a verdict on K157 from Thomas F Dunhill in 1927. Well, formal perhaps in the first movement but prim it isn’t. Nor is the playing of the Jerusalem Quartet, whose attention to the shaping of paragraphs alleviates the inexperience of a youthful composer. Eventful, though, is the slow movement (marked Andante by Mozart père), from which the musicians extract an expression of feeling that doesn’t suggest immaturity.
Every repeat in all three works is observed. The expansion of scale is noticeable, particularly in K458. And it’s here that the Jerusalem begin to show their mettle. Something both grand and reflective is suggested in the first movement, grand in the “hunting” motif of the exposition, reflective in the F major beginning of the development to which a touch of sobriety is added as the music sinks into F minor a little later. These artists aren’t stratified. Bowing varies from precise attack to breathy delicacy; and lines are supple, contoured through flexure of phase and the easing or tightening of pace without ever disrupting pulse.
Sound and balance throughout is realistic; but whereas the transfer level of these two works is high, that of K589 is low. Lift the volume to experience another emotional response to the many possibilities inherent in interpretation, and where the depths plumbed in the Larghetto are of an eminence that says it all with so much conviction.