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Alban Berg Quartett
MOZART: CHAMBER MUSIC
(EMI)
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When it comes to refinement and tonal blend, the Alban Berg Quartett has it over almost every foursome around: no other quartet makes uniformity into such an exalted sonic virtue. This seven-CD box set, centered on Mozartís 10 mature string quartets, shows both the benefits and the detriments of their approach. The ABQís playing is elegant and its phrasing immaculate, but that plushness can rob the music of its verve: the rhythms are sometimes flaccid (as in the K.458 Hunt Quartet), and individual lines get lost in the sheen of beautiful sound (as in the famous opening of the K.465 Dissonant Quartet). The players are at their best in Mozartís three final quartets, where simplicity and profundity exist in equal measure. Here the ABQís sophisticated grace is wholly apt, and the results are spellbinding, especially in the slow movements.

The set also includes sleek performances of the two famous String Quintets (with violist Markus Wolf), and Alfred Brendel contributes some unexpected brio to the E-flat Piano Quartet (K.493) and an arrangement for the same forces of the A-major Piano Concerto (K.414). Itís an uneven collection, but definitely worth hearing, especially at EMIís budget price.

BY DAVID WEININGER


Issue Date: December 19 - 25, 2003
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