Mozart - Beethoven Wind Quintets
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)Quintet for piano and winds in E flat major, K. 452:
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)Quintet for piano and winds in E flat major, Op. 16:
Harmonie du soir, ensemble.
Musicstry Studios: TRT® sound (calibration 2.0d). Recorded: June 9, 10 2017. Released: February 1 2019. Photo: Daniel Mellado. Liner notes: Justo Romero. Producer: Mario Martínez. PC17007 ℗ & © 2018 PlayClassics.
Embrace in E flat
Two quintets for piano and winds. Two important compositions by two important creators, both ousted from the preeminent position to which they are entitled by virtue of their quality and inspiration, due essentially to their now disused instrumental format and to the central role that concert halls have for many decades reserved for the symphonic repertoire and the universe of the recital. In equal measure, these are two masterpieces in the judgement of the composers themselves: Mozart was in no way mistaken, when, in a letter sent to his father Leopold on 10 April 1784, he said of the Quintet for piano and winds which he had just finished, “It’s the best work I’ve ever written”.
Neither did Beethoven err on subtly embracing Mozart, the brilliant composer of Don Giovanni, in the central Andante cantabile of his only Quintet for piano and winds, where the German, who was born only fourteen years after the Salzburger, brings us to hear and feel the song of the beautiful Zerlina in her famous “Batti, batti o bel Masetto”. In every possible sense, this recording brings together two works which are, not only the most symbolic of the repertoire for piano and winds, but are also two compositions that form part of the very cream of the universal chamber music heritage.
Both works written in E flat, a key in consonance with the instrumental nature of wind instruments, the joint protagonists, in tandem with the piano, of these two sublime instances of their genre. Mozart concluded the quintet in Vienna on 30 March 1784, and only two days later gave it its début, performed in what was tantamount to a first reading!, at the Burgtheater in the Austrian capital. Mozart was 27 at the time but had for some time -almost since birth!- been a consummate maestro, steeped in the ways of the keyboard and the singular characteristics of the four wind instruments that complete the ensemble.
Beethoven was also a veteran in his twenties when, at the age of 26, he brought out his Quintet, which, like that of Mozart, was also premiered in Vienna, on 6 April 1797, scarcely thirteen years after Mozart’s …and with the same piano! The parallelism between the two is patent, and is also evident in the way both are divided into three movements, with the common preamble of a slow introduction. Even so, and despite the almost identical age of their respective composers when they created these works, Mozart’s Quintet displays a maturity and more developed evolution in its composer’s catalogue than does Beethoven’s, whose opus 16 indisputably places it in his first creative period, when the influence of Mozart, and of classicism in general, is still evident, notwithstanding the fleeting flashes and features of the revolutionary groundbreaker who would soon impose romanticism and a new way of being, feeling, and living music.
It is not in many of Mozart’s works that the future (Beethoven!) is so clearly discernible as it is in his Quintet for piano and winds, chronologically and stylistically close to Piano Concertos Nos. 16 and 17. Music of great refinement, whose courtly veneer in no way implies superficiality or flippancy; and imposed upon this -and even on the unquestionable flavour of the best Mozart- is the balance, sense of colour and meticulous instrumental knowledge that is glimpsed with each passing moment. From the first chords of the solemn opening Largo, one feels the perfection and richness of the thematic ideas that infuse and nourish the quintet. Shining forth all through the first movement, in the unmistakeable form of a sonata, is this dazzling fertility, with successive leading interventions by the various instruments.
The central Larghetto is characteristic of the hypnotic, slow Mozartian movements. One is fascinated by the inspiration, the pure melodic quality, the beauty of its phrasing and how this is combined, distributed and commingled among the different instruments. One is also seduced by the prodigious and unified mosaic of tonal colours and registers, its natural and perfectly harmonised flow, as if this were some delicate nocturnal serenade, equal in every respect to that sung by Don Giovanni under Doña Elvira’s balcony. All this goes to rank this passage among his finest and best finished slow movements. The final Allegretto is a rondo whose simple refrain is introduced by the piano from the very first bar. It is a characteristic concerto finale tinged with fascinating modulations to the relative key of C minor, which even includes a characteristic and well-worked cadence that precedes the foreseeable and brilliant coda.
Beethoven’s Quintet is indebted to Mozart’s and is a clear homage to its composer, whose presence is not felt solely in the above-described allusion in the second movement. Furthermore, Beethoven’s embrace of Mozart is reflected even in the actual structure of the quintet, which faithfully follows Mozart’s, down to the detail of the solemn introduction to the first movement and the characteristic division into three movements, with a light-hearted finale in the form of a rondo. This is a Beethoven who still sees a kindred spirit in Mozart, but whose revolution is already as imminent as it is inexorable. Years afterwards, in around 1810, Beethoven was to make a transcription for a piano and string quartet (violin, viola and cello), in which the keyboard part remained intact.
The most advanced movement, the most essentially Beethovenian of the entire quintet, is the initial Allegro ma non troppo. Bursting forth, after the melodious and grave introduction, comes the affirmative, categorical, almost imperious sense of the imminent Beethoven, even more palpable in the forceful treatment of the piano, which announces the principal motif and recurrently assumes the role of a genuine soloist. A “zerlinesque” sensuality envelops the lyrical and effusive staves of the central Andante cantabile, whereas in the extroverted final rondo, in 6/8 time and inaugurated by the solo piano, the wind instruments converse with the piano and engage in an animated to-and-fro through a colourful passage of enormous vivacity and effervescence. Mozart, his accents, rhythms and cantabile quality, harmoniously coexist in this finale with an already unequivocally Beethovenian flavour.