Mozart, Hummel, Beethoven / Ames Piano Quartet

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MOZART Piano Quartet in E?, K 452. HUMMEL Piano Quartet in G. BEETHOVEN Piano Quartet in E?, op. 16 Ames Qrt DORIAN DSL-92120 (70:03)

In addition to one decidedly less-familiar work, this CD presents two others of greater fame but in less familiar guises. Mozart’s Quintet for Piano and Winds, K 452, was not published in its original version until 1799, 13 years after the composer’s death. However, five year prior, in 1794, the Artaria firm in Vienna issued the piece in the anonymous arrangement for piano quartet offered here; scholars disagree as to whether Mozart may have had any involvement with its preparation. By contrast, the arrangement of Beethoven’s op. 16 Quintet for Piano and Winds from 1796–97 for piano quartet was made by the composer himself, both versions being published simultaneously in 1801. While the Piano Quartet of Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778–1837) is originally scored for that ensemble, it is like the Mozart a posthumously published work, issued by Breitkopf & Härtel in 1839. Variously dated by different musicologists to about 1811 or after 1819, its unusual two-movement structure has led to speculation that either the composer never completed the work or that the opening movement has been lost. While not quite on the level of its companions here—its thematic and melodic materials are a bit foursquare—it is nonetheless an engaging piece that not only confirms that Hummel deserves the increased attention he has recently received, but also suggests that much worthwhile music from the era has been overshadowed by the dominance of Beethoven, Schubert, and Mendelssohn.

Aside from its potential interest to completists who want to have the Mozart and Beethoven pieces in these alternate versions, this disc is also most attractive on its own terms for the sheer enjoyment it provides. All three works are sunny, genial essays in bright major keys; they are well crafted with enticing melodies, and make no special intellectual demands on the listener’s attentions. The long-established and estimable Ames Quartet is at the top of its formidable game here, offering interpretations that are unabashedly cast in a big-boned romantic vein, with leisurely tempi and a deeply sonorous, lustrous instrumental sound. The Mozart is given a weighty Beethovenian interpretation that is the very antithesis of period-instrument practice. But then, Mozart’s marvelous music can blossom equally well under either approach, and one can embrace both without having to choose between them. The recorded sound is equally plush, and the booklet provides detailed and informative notes.

This is the only performance I can locate for this arrangement of the Mozart. While there are about 10 other performances of this version of the Beethoven presently in print, including such formidable competitors as the Nash Ensemble and the freelance frequent foursome of Isaac Stern, Jaime Laredo, Yo-Yo Ma, and Emmanuel Ax, this gorgeous rendition can hold its own against any of them. There is one competing performance of the Hummel, on a Naxos CD that pairs it with other chamber pieces by that composer and features a fortepiano rather than a modern instrument. However, unless collecting more Hummel is your priority, this disc simply can’t be beat for its pervasive sense of Gemütlichkeit, bonhomie , and joie de vivre ; highly recommended.

FANFARE: James A. Altena

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: DSL-92120

  • UPC: 053479212023

  • Label: Dorian

  • Composer: Johann Nepomuk Hummel, Ludwig van Beethoven, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Ames Piano Quartet