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Britten / Mozart

Britten / Mozart 1 December 1951

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The Amadeus Quartet was among the first ensembles to be invited to perform at Britten s Aldeburgh Festival after their sensational London debut. The old-world, Viennese sweetness of timbre, intense commitment, focus on Classical repertoire yet willingness to engage with the new were all qualities that would have caught the eye and ear of Britten, who was himself a superb pianist and famously stringent judge of fellow performers.

The eminent scholar and keyboard player George Malcolm described Britten the pianist as instinctive rather than scientific – a distinction that perhaps applies equally well to his music. Here are both, caught on the wing at concerts in Aldeburgh. The joyous performance of the Mozart piano quartet appears to be the only record we have of this distinguished artistic partnership, live in performance. This alone would make it worth hearing for the curious listener, but anyone who loves Mozart can take pleasure from a performance distinguished by its uninhibited joy and tenderness, and the delight taken in mutual musical sympathy.

That sympathy was evident from the many occasions on which the Amadeus Quartet programmed Britten s own works. He wrote the Third Quartet for the quartet as he was dying, in thanks for its committed advocacy of his work over a 30-year period. When the Amadeus gave this performance of the Second Quartet, the piece was not yet six years old, yet it was already entering the mainstream repertoire of chamber music, just as Peter Grimes (written four months previously) had instantly announced the maturity of a British composer to rival Henry Purcell in ingenuity and stature. Britten wrote the quartet to mark the 250th anniversary of Purcell s death – we celebrate the 350th anniversary of his birth this year.