Mozart: String Quintets, K. 515 & 516

Mozart: String Quintets, K. 515 & 516

Choosing artistic partners to work with can be difficult. But when it came to seeking a violist for its new album of Mozart string quintets, the Quatuor Ébène had a ready-made solution—their old friend Antoine Tamestit. The quartet first played with Tamestit in 2004, at the ARD International Music Competition in Munich. Both emerged as top prizewinners, and an immediate rapport was established when Mozart’s string quintets were among the first pieces that the five musicians performed together. Two of Mozart’s six quintets feature on the album: No. 3 in C major (K515) and No. 4 in G minor (K516). Quite why Mozart opted to add an extra viola for quintet-writing purposes—Boccherini before him, in setting the benchmark, used two cellos—is unclear. “Mozart’s own love for the viola is probably a big part of this decision,” Tamestit suggests. “He owned two himself, and somehow the extra viola gave him all the voices he needed for the harmonies of his quintets.” Marie Chilemme, the Quatuor Ébène’s resident violist, agrees that having two violas in the mix enables Mozart to significantly stretch the expressive possibilities of his writing. “Even more than in his string quartets, it gives a deepness and an emotional dimension,” she comments. “Another layer, another shadow that he can play with,” is how Tamestit puts it. “Very often it brings a new intimacy, an extra level of refinement.” Chilemme played first viola for the recording of String Quintet No. 4, with Tamestit on second. Swapping roles for Quintet No. 3 further enhanced the pair’s appreciation of Mozart’s subtly detailed writing for the two instruments. “We exchanged roles not just to be fair and equal, but because we both enjoyed so much the two viola parts,” Tamestit explains. “Mozart writes in a sublime way for both players.” Founded in 1999 in Paris, France, the Quatuor Ébène has won numerous awards and garnered constant critical acclaim across its near quarter-century of existence. Playing with the group has given Tamestit a unique insight into its exacting working methods. “They always put musical gesture and musical emotion first, in what to me is a very surprising rehearsal process,” he says. “They try to find the rough gestures and raw emotions in the music first. And then they have this incredible capacity to bring in all the technical details, to make the most perfectly balanced chords, and the most perfectly luminous intonation.” The exceptional quality of the Quatuor Ébène’s playing suffuses the new Mozart album, which brings together two pieces of starkly different temperament. “These quintets are like light and shadow, the major and the minor, the yin and yang of Mozart’s music, and they complement each other really well,” Chilemme comments. “We are already planning to record the other four quintets too.”

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