Mozart / Quintet – Piano + Winds & Trio – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

More of the music of Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Quintet – Piano + Winds & Trio


A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame

Yes, you can expect to find White Hot DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND on side one of this Blueback pressing (CS 6109), possibly the best sound Decca/London ever achieved in the chamber music format. It’s hard to imagine these five instruments sounding much better than they do here. And the sound for the Trio for Piano, Clarinet and Viola on side two is nearly as good, earning a sonic grade of A++. 

The record is vastly underrated in the famous Moon/ Grey book. No doubt they had a mediocre stamper — how many copies of every title could they possibly have played? — but this is anything but.

I have never heard better staging for a chamber work of this kind. All five instruments are so clearly set apart from each other and tonally correct that it is nothing less than fascinating to be able to follow each instrument as it weaves its way through the score.

The timber of the instruments is perfection. Note also the wonderful variety of the instruments. This is not just another piano quintet or string quartet recording, of which there are so many they become hard to keep straight. This record will sit at the top of the pile, not only for its demo quality sound but for the wonderful sonorities of the instruments themselves.

Easily one of the finest chamber recordings we have ever had the pleasure to play, this London pressing earned strong grades on both sides for its lovely recreation of space, Tubey Magical richness, and overall naturalness of presentation.

Is It Live?

It sounds very much like live music, or at least what you imagine this music would sound like live. Of course, live classical music is shocking in its clarity and freedom from artificiality, and no recording I have ever heard duplicates that sound with perfect fidelity, but when the pressing is as clear and transparent and natural as this one, your ability to suspend disbelief seems to require no effort at all. Close your eyes. Your brain, search as it may, can find nothing in the recording to interfere with the appreciation of even the most subtle nuances of the score. This is the mark of a very fine record indeed.

You may notice that we do very few chamber music records on the site. Thousands of these works have been recorded, and to be honest a large portion of them actually have quite decent sound. Obviously a handful of instruments is much more easily captured on tape than the fifty or more pieces in a modern large orchestra.

This copy had the sound we were looking for. Those of you with exceptionally clean, clear systems, capable of reproducing both the clarity and the Tubey Magic captured on the tape, are in for a real treat.

What to Listen for

Fullness and solidity, especially in the piano, although a rich, full sounding clarinet is a joy to hear as well.

Some of the copies lacked the weight and solidity to balance out the qualities of transparency and clarity. The resulting sound is less natural, with the kind of forced detail that CDs do so well, and live music never does. There is a balance to be found.

The right VTA will be critical in this regard. When you have all the space; the clearest, most extended harmonics; AND good weight and richness in the lower registers of the piano, you are where you need to be (keeping in mind that it can always get better if you have the patience and drive to tweak further).

The Mozart quartet on side one is for piano, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon, performed by members of the Vienna Octet with Walter Panhoffer on the piano. Side two offers Mozart’s Trio in E Flat Major for piano, clarinet and viola.

Side One

The slightly better — depending on how critical you are as a listener — of the two sides here. The overall sound is the biggest, most solid and most real of all the sides we played. The piano is key to anchoring the rest of the instruments and on this side it was doing its job magnificently.

Overall there is a lovely blend of instrumental timbres — listen for it! It’s what makes this music so delightful.

Side Two

So rich and tubey, yet transparent and clear. With only three instruments the timbres of each were amazingly real. Compared to side one of this very copy the sound was not quite as lush and clear here, so we’re calling this side Super Hot. It’s hard to fault unless you have an amazing copy to compare with it, but side one of this copy is even more amazing, hence the grade.

One Last Thing

As you make changes to your setup, equipment, room, electrical system and who knows what else (we’re hoping you do; it can make all your Hot Stampers even hotter), this record will show you the progress you are making, as well as keep you on the straight and narrow. If you know anything about audio, you know that it’s easy to go off the rails. Happens to the best of us. That’s why it’s essential to have records like this one handy, to help you get back on the right path should some hi-fi-ish sounding something make itself appealing to you in an unguarded moment (to mix yet another metaphor).

The Audio Advice section of the site has much more on the subject for those of you who may be interested.

“Classical music lovers have long noted that many composers reserved their finest creative efforts for the chamber music format. Few would argue that among the greatest classical music of all time are the string quartets of Beethoven, the piano trios of Brams and Schubrt, and Mozart’s glorious quintet for piano and woodwinds.”

B. Ferguson

Herbert Glass on the work

In March of 1784, Mozart wrote from Vienna to his father, Leopold, in Salzburg: “On the last three Wednesdays of Lent, beginning with the 17th, I have planned three subscription concerts for Trattner’s Rooms” – the spacious home of the newly ennobled Johann Trattner, where Wolfgang and his wife Constanze rented accommodations, and which boasted a large ballroom where concerts were regularly given. “For these concerts I already have 100 subscribers and expect another 30 shortly… I shall later give academies,” that is, private concerts in aristocratic salons or in one of the city’s theaters.

Among the entries in Mozart’s just-begun catalog of his works – he waited until he had written over 400 before deciding, in his own words, “to get organized” – were such freshly-minted marvels as the Piano Concerto in E-flat, K. 449, written for his prize pupil, Babette Ployer, daughter of an imperial court councilor; the Piano Concertos K. 450 and K.451, in B-flat and D, respectively, both for himself; the “Linz” Symphony; a group of concert arias; and the Quintet in E-flat for Piano and Winds, K. 452. Of the latter he wrote to Leopold, “I consider it the best work I have ever written…” a rare pronouncement even from a composer hardly loath to praise his own creations. Shortly thereafter, he would write to his father “I have now completed another concerto, in F [K. 453], also for Babette Ployer.”

Until K. 453, whose integration of piano and winds resulted directly from the “experiment” of the Quintet, the Mozart piano concertos, beginning as early as 1779 with the splendidly deep Salzburg-composed work in E-flat, K. 271, did not as yet partake of that magical intertwining that would mark the later Vienna concertos. In fact, Mozart suggested to his first Vienna publishers that his concertos of 1782-1784 (prior to K. 450) could be performed without the written-out wind parts if that would facilitate sales. The winds merely doubled the strings anyway, he asserted, adding flecks of color and filling out the harmony, rather than adding readily discernible support, to say nothing of leading ineluctable lives – as would soon become a defining element of the Mozart concerto.

Suddenly, in the still undervalued Concerto in D, K. 451, whose completion preceded that of K. 452 by only a matter of days, the winds are unprecedentedly prominent. But they tend to stand and deliver before and after the piano delivers, only midway through the slow movement beginning subtly to intrude on the keyboard, before taking a step back again in the finale. It’s then – with the Quintet – that the composer shows his impatience to take his developing method a step further, without the distractions of all those strings, trumpets, and drums that also inhabit the D-major Concerto.

The Quintet was first presented on April 1, 1784, as part of a mammoth concert of Mozart’s works entirely new or new to Vienna, in the capital’s Burgtheater. The playbill listed a “Symphony with Trumpets and Drums” (probably the “Haffner,” K. 385), a Piano Concerto (K. 451); the “Linz” Symphony; a group of piano improvisations by Mozart; and another symphony, possibly the “Paris” (K. 297) of 1778, not previously heard in Vienna.

K. 452 is in the three movements of a concerto. The first movement is brief, with a slow, sonorous introduction, in which each of the five players is allowed to strut his/her stuff, with a powerful concluding wind tutti over the piano. A gratifying surprise comes after only 20-odd measures have passed with the succeeding allegro, a tour-de-force of variety and inspiration, each wind allotted its brief theme – with such a mixed ensemble Mozart had no choice but to keep the individual statements as compact as possible – and the piano as partner rather than master, the instruments presented in pairs, in combinations of three, four, and five. While the key of B-flat is in Mozart usually a vehicle for frivolous thoughts, in the second movement of K. 452 it is employed to convey a sadly sweet mellowness. The thematically rich rondo finale is the longest movement of the three, crowned by a long cadenza for all five instruments.

That Mozart worked assiduously at getting this “study” right is affirmed by the extensive sketches that exist for the first movement, examples of reworking hardly being common among the composer’s works. The impression of ease and spontaneity – certainly present here – is not always easily achieved, even by Mozart.

And there is an interesting bit of irony concerning the “why” of K. 452: Mozart thought that a work prominently involving winds would impress the young Prince Aloys Liechtenstein, who was in the process of forming his own “Harmonie” (wind-band) and who was scheduled to attend the work’s premiere on March 21. But the Prince chose instead to hold a musical event at his own palace on that date, which would have been attended by Mozart’s presumed audience. Thus, the premiere was held as noted above, without the Prince’s presence. Liechtenstein did not form his Harmonie – with which the composer hoped to be prominently involved – until early in 1792, by which time Mozart was dead.

Dennis Bade on the work

Because of his extraordinary legacy of concertos for piano, most of us might assume that Mozart participated in performances of this unusually scored work by playing the piano, but the viola part was the one the composer wrote for himself (completed in August of 1786, the work was published in 1788). Anton Stadler, the master clarinetist for whom Mozart would also compose his Clarinet Quintet, K. 581 (in 1789), and, in 1791, the Clarinet Concerto, K. 622, joined the composer and Mozart’s piano student, Franziska Jacquin.

The lyrical, liquid quality of the comparatively new wind instrument had charmed Mozart sufficiently that many of the works from that period now included clarinet parts. The viola was favored by the composer in many works, including the series of string quintets in which a second viola part augmented the standard string quartet.

There is an unconfirmed legend that Mozart composed this trio while visiting what we would term a bowling alley, but that dubious honor may be more properly ascribed to a set of duos for basset horns, K. 487. It must be admitted, however, that the nickname has made the trio stand out from its fellows.

There are other distinctive aspects to the music, including its leisurely opening tempo and absence of a sonata form repeat in the first movement. The following minuet is folksy and not so elegant as many such movements by Mozart. The final movement has a returning theme, but there are more variations than usual between the recurrences of the rondo, so it is labeled in the plural, Rondeaux.