Notes and Editorial Reviews
String Quartets: No. 3 in D,
No. 5 in A,
No 16 in F,
MYRIOS 009 (SACD:79: 25)
Taking a decidedly interventionist approach, the Hagen Quartet brings stupendous technique and 30 years of specialization in the Viennese classical tradition to bear on these familiar Beethoven quartets, effectively heightening the
music’s character at every moment. Here are a few examples:
1) Despite its
tempo indication, op. 18/3’s opening movement begins with slow music, so the Hagen plays it a little slowly, bringing out its thoughtful, introductory character, the better to create a contrast with the true
that arrives 26 measures into the movement. By understanding
to be a feeling, not a metronome marking, they enhance the music’s meaning.
2) In the second theme of the same movement, the Hagens highlight its syncopation by giving its important
a little extra nudge of placement in time.
3) Some quartets wouldn’t take the trio section of op. 18/5’s Minuet movement at a slower tempo than the minuet, because it’s not indicated in the score, but by doing so, the Hagen gives it a drunkenly swaying feel, using Beethoven’s misplaced-sounding accents to bring out the music’s latent character.
The Hagens are masters of precise articulation and quicksilver speed, but their sensitivity to the music also allows for tender feeling and simplicity of utterance. Their slow movement of op. 135 is a good example. By taking a tempo that gives the very slow main theme some forward motion—less drawn out than in the Brentano Quartet’s recent recording of the work (reviewed elsewhere)—the melody becomes songful enough that the structure of the variations that follow become easier to follow. Both groups create a rapt, contemplative feeling, but the Hagens’ has a more human dimension.
It sounds like the Hagens’ view of early Beethoven has absorbed the influence of period instrument performance, with a wide range of vibrato and non-vibrato sounds now part of their arsenal of colors. They remind me of certain technically dazzling solo performers who, by combining strong personal instincts, good taste, and openness to new approaches, bring extra vitality to their interpretations. I’m thinking of Cecilia Bartoli savoring the sound of the Italian language in a Rossini aria in a way that gives new musical meaning to the words, or Martha Argerich infusing an accompaniment figure in a Beethoven violin sonata with more rhythmic life than you knew it had.
Following a 20-year relationship with Deutsche Grammophon that resulted in 45 discs, with many of the Beethoven quartets among them, the Hagen Quartet is now heard on Myrios, who provide them here with warm, nicely detailed sound. Lovers of Beethoven’s experimental, multi-faceted op. 18 quartets—the outstanding achievements of his early period— and the mercurial joys of his last quartet, may find, as I do, that the Hagen Quartet’s Beethoven sets a new standard. Here’s hoping that they will record a new, complete Beethoven cycle for Myrios.
FANFARE: Paul Orgel
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