Britten on Record: Mozart: Piano Quartet no.2 in E flat major K493 (Pearl)
Benjamin Britten (piano), Members of the Amadeus Quartet (assumed to be Norbert Brainin (violin), Peter Schidlof (viola) and Martin Lovett (cello)
Private tape recording in the collection of The Earl of Harewood, 1951
Clips from each of the three movements can be heard over on the All Music website.
Background and Critical Reception
Britten enjoyed a long and fruitful musical relationship with the Amadeus Quartet, who worked closely with him in the final days of composition of his String Quartet no.3. By then they had been working with the composer for over twenty years, for this first recorded instance of their collaborations is from 1953.
This is another recording taken from a tape in the collection of the Earl of Harewood, and the exact date of 23 June places it half way between the completion of Winter Words and Gloriana. It is assumed to be from the Aldeburgh Festival, though no information on the venue is forthcoming.
Once again Britten’s Mozart sensibilities are fully in place for what is a special performance of music he clearly loved performing.
His own contribution is modest but wonderfully weighted, and there is a particularly lovely moment when Britten disguises one of the harmonic sleights in the first movement, emphasising one of Mozart’s favourite tricks without putting it under the spotlight.
The second Piano Quartet is actually a work that is difficult to write about, because it unfolds so naturally and with deceptive simplicity. This makes it difficult to play, but Britten and the three Amadeus members deliver a bright performance of the outer two movements, and a slow movement that has an Italian flavour.
The violin sound I found occasionally too sweet, but that is down to personal taste. There is also a wrong note in the penultimate chord in the piano that jars momentarily. Additionally, pitch is an issue with the recording – as it is with the Piano Concerto no.19. Here the quartet sounds in D rather than E flat. The sound is thick and quite approximate – as you would expect – but the remaster gives it as much definition as possible.
With all that said, this val;ue document that once again communicates Britten’s clear love of Mozart.
Also recorded in 1953: Mozart – Haydn String Quartets (Budapest String Quartet) (Magdalen)
Next up: Schubert – 5 Lieder