Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) didn’t write much for two and three-string instruments. Nonetheless, there are enough works to release as a two-CD set which was part of the “Complete Mozart Edition,” released on the Philips label in 1991. Entitled “String Trios and Duos,” it was performed by the Grumiaux Trio, consisting of violinist Arthur Grumiaux (1921-1986), violist Georges Janzer (1914-1989) and cellist Eva Czako (1926-1978). They were joined by violinist and violist Arrigo Pelliccia (1912-1987) and members of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble, including violinist Kenneth Sillito (1939-), violinist Malcolm Latchem (1931-) and cellist Stephen Orton.
As per musicologist Robin Golding’s notes in the accompanying booklet, the 10 works in this set are a mixed bag of masterpieces and curiosities. I should also mention that the two “Sonatas for Violin and Bass (K46d and K46e)” from 1768 are not included in the set.
At any rate, the “Divertimento (String Trio) in E Flat” is the standard work of the set and Golding refers to it as “. . . the greatest String Trio ever written.” The Grumiaux Trio performance of this piece was exemplary. Incidentally, Arthur Grumiaux and his colleagues were also involved in the Philips recordings of the Mozart String Quintets.
The two “Duos for Violin and Viola” performed by Grumiaux and Pelliccia, are also considered to be “masterpieces.” However, they were much more “academic” to my ears, while still showing both instruments on more or less equal footing.
The “Trio in B Flat for Two Violins and Cello,” played by Sillito, Latchem and Orton, is a two movement work which may or may not have been a torso for a larger piece. Again, it was pleasant, but nothing to write home about.
The “Six Preludes and Fugues for Violin, Viola and Cello” are transcriptions of five works by Johann Sebastian Bach and one piece by Wilhelm Friedemann Bach; although, four of the six “Preludes” were written by Mozart himself. These are definitely curiosities and while the Grumiaux Trio did a fine job of playing them, I wasn’t that inspired.
Recorded between 1967 and 1989, these performances left little to be desired. I can certainly recommend this set to those who, like me, are inclined to explore lesser-known music from a composer who is generally acknowledged to be one of the true immortals. I’m sure that the people at Philips put a fair amount of thought into choosing which recordings they considered worthy of inclusion in this landmark set, and these discs do not disappoint.