MOZART: Oboe Quartet in F K370. Flute Quartet in C K285b. Quartet in G K285a. Oboe Quartet in F after K496.
American Baroque (Stephen Schultz, flute; Gonzalo X. Ruiz, oboe; Elizabeth Blumenstock, violin; Katherine Kyme, viola; Tanya Tomkins, cello)
MUSIC & ARTS CD 1121 (F) (DDD) TT: 66:49

American Baroque, whose five mem bers are California-based, play period insruments as beautifully as any group I’ve heard. Not just the strings (which avoid the steely sound favored by fiddlers on “ancient” instruments in Albion across the Atlantic) but the flute and oboe in this very welcome music—a sorbet, if you will, after all the high-cholesterol repertory reviewed on this and other websites. Gonzalo X. Ruiz, who is the group’s oboist traces the origin of the F major Quartet, K.370, sold and published posthumously (as Op. 101), although it very probably dated from 1781.

The flute quartets are part of the commission that a friend at Mannheim wangled from a Dutch merchant during Mozart’s stay there in 1777. But Mozart didn’t complete his end of the bargain and received only partial payment, which rankled him no end. In a letter to “Papa” who was nagging him from Salzburg, he wrote that the flute was “an instrument which I cannot bear.” Yet in Paris, his eventual destination, one of the few works he wrote was the concerto for flute and harp, K.299, that has given delight ever since. The later F-major Oboe Quartet was published as one of three for clarinet and strings collectively as Op. 87, “arranged” from two violin sonatas and the piano trio, K.496. Ruiz feels this last to be even more suitable for the oboe than the clarinet, and makes a persuasive case in both his notes and his playing. A good deal of latterday scholarship has gone into the correction of errors, in the finale especially, and the beneficiaries are we who hear it on this delectable CD.

The sound, “produced, engineered, edited and mastered “ by Ruiz and his flutist-colleague, Stephen Scultz, was recorded in Oakland, CA, and matches the playing in sweetness and suavity without sounding reticent on the one hand or bloated on the other. It is a model in fact of how to record period instruments as well as chamber music. Need I add “recommended”?

R.D. (October 2003)