This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.
Notes and Editorial Reviews
Probing musicianship that leaves no musical stone unturned, with virtuoso string playing thrown in as part of the deal.
Like the Juilliard and Emerson Quartets, the Hagen has a healthy habit of 'making it new', visiting standard repertoire with fresh ideas about phrasing, dynamics and tempos. In the case of the C minor Quartet's pensive opening Allegro, it sidesteps the qualifying ma non tanto (Beethoven's idea was not to overdo the Allegro element) and goes instead for all-out urgency. The tone is characteristically lean, with vivid crescendos, fierce accents, varied vibratos and a razor-sharp unanimity of attack - qualities that suit the pent-up nature of the piece. I was surprised that the Hagen omits the repeat of
the Scherzo's first section, but the precision of the playing, its consistently elegant tailoring, gave me considerable pleasure.
The Menuetto's outer sections are very fast (not exactly an Allegretto) and yet when Beethoven does finally ask for an unqualified Allegro - in the finale - the Hagen surprises us by opting for a relatively moderate speed. Of course, the choice is judicious, given the sudden prestissimo upsurge at the end of the piece. The cut and thrust of the playing is as impressive as ever, always clearly articulated, and with a mass of detail jostling for attention.
A more testing challenge arrives with the great late C sharp minor Quartet, Op 131. Here the Hagen adjusts its approach to reflect the colossal leaps that Beethoven had made since the 'storm and stress' of his Op 18 set. The opening Adagio is trance-like in its intensity, broader than the Emerson by some two minutes (8'18'' against 6'13'') and seamlessly phrased. I loved the racy violin portamento at 1'11'' into the second movement (it leans across one of Beethoven's poco ritardandos) and the clarity of the cellist's pizzicato double-stopping in the fourth movement (at, say, 0'22''). Rubato is subtle but telling (try from 1'29'' into the same track) and dynamics are scrupulously observed (the successive mini-cadenzas from 11'22'').
One never suspects, however, that all this fastidious point-making is achieved at the expense of weight or depth of feeling. The Presto fifth movement (taken at a fairly central tempo) has swarms of staccato crotchets falling in heady profusion, while, in the Hagen's hands, the penultimate, prayer-like Adagio achieves a level of profundity that quite transcends its brevity. The finale sets out with proud strides and the sound quality throughout is almost tangibly present.
Detailed comparisons are difficult in that I don't know of another CD that couples these two quartets together. The most obvious point of reference, in terms of style and contemporaneity is also on DG and features the Emerson Quartet (part of its thrilling complete set). There, too, energy and interpretative levels are high, though the present coupling tends to throw down the gauntlet of originality rather more often. Even now, I look forward to hearing it again.'
-- Rob Cowan, Gramophone [5/2000]
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