The Varian Fry Quartet and Harp Serves Up Mozart

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Mozart: Concertos (Indé Sens)

The only thing that saved this release from being flung unopened into the bin was the quartet’s name and the fact that this is the first fruit of a new label. The Varian Fry Quartet, made up of young Berlin Philharmonic players, is named after an American who saved the lives of at least 2,000 Nazi refugees in the south of France, a largely unsung hero. The label is a bold French venture.

But an hour of harp music with string quartet? Come on, there will be plenty of time for that in the afterlife. So why listen? Because Mozart made these transcriptions himself – two piano concertos, K414 and K415 – in the whimsical expectation that they were easy enough for amateurs to try out at home.

No chancer, then or since, could bring off the pinpoint interpretation that Marie-Pierre Langlamet, principal harp of the Berlin Phil, gives here with her string colleagues. Their frontline intensity, no holds barred, treats the music as weapons-grade Mozart. They are slightly less successful in the 2-piano concerto, K365. Two harps and a string quartet sound, in both senses of the word, unbalanced.

What surprises me is how swiftly the ear adjusts from anticipating a Mozart piano concerto to accepting the string quartet-plus-harp reduction. The sound is more cohesive and no less emotional, the drama every bit as intense. The allegro of K414 dances like a tarantula on hot coals, the fingers flying even faster on the harp than they could on the piano. Listen. You’ll be amazed.

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About Author

Norman Lebrecht is a prolific writer on music and cultural affairs. His blog, Slipped Disc, is one of the most popular sites for cultural news. He presents The Lebrecht Interview on BBC Radio 3 and is a contributor to several publications, including the Wall Street Journal and The Standpoint. Visit every Friday for his weekly CD review // Norman Lebrecht est un rédacteur prolifique couvrant les événements musicaux et Slipped Disc, est un des plus populaires sites de nouvelles culturelles. Il anime The Lebrecht Interview sur la BBC Radio 3 et collabore à plusieurs publications, dont The Wall Street Journal et The Standpoint. Vous pouvez lire ses critiques de disques chaque vendredi.

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