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Introspective | Retrospective - Grieg, Brahms / Widmann, Hagen Quartet

Release Date: 03/13/2012 
Label:  Myrios Classics   Catalog #: 7  
Composer:  Johannes BrahmsEdvard Grieg
Performer:  Jörg Widmann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Hagen String Quartet
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BRAHMS Clarinet Quintet. GRIEG String Quartet in g Jörg Widmann (cl); Hagen Qrt MYRIOS MYR007 (SACD: 75:44)

This is the Hagen Quartet’s second CD for Myrios after a long association with Deutsche Grammophon. It features an unusual juxtaposition, pairing Brahms’s quintessentially autumnal Clarinet Quintet with Grieg’s volatile G-Minor Quartet, composed a dozen or so years earlier. It turns out, according to the notes, that the Hagens simply Read more wanted to record both works. This CD also commemorates the Hagens’ 30th anniversary, making it dubious that the quartet was formed in 1987, as one Fanfare reviewer wrote recently.

Clarinetist Widmann and the Hagen Quartet present a highly individual reading of the Brahms, making a fascinating comparison with the Oslo Philharmonic Chamber Group’s recording, received simultaneously and probably reviewed in this issue. The current version offers a good deal more rhythmic and tonal inflection, while the Norwegians have a more opulent sound overall. This is a reading of considerable rhythmic flexibility, especially in the second movement, with a great deal of give-and-take among the musicians. Pianissimos are lovely—scarcely audible, in fact—and in general the ensemble is outstanding, with near-ideal instrumental balances. Widmann has a darker sound than most German clarinetists, but this sound is not as perfectly smooth as Leif Arne Pedersen’s is on the Oslo version, and it becomes a bit strident in fortissimo ; overall, however, it’s very fine playing. The other unusual feature of this reading is the very deliberate tempo of the first movement, which lasts more than 14 minutes with exposition repeat.

The Grieg performance emphasizes the score’s contrasts and discontinuities; it’s a reading of great drama, not inappropriate for this work. In some passages it sounds almost avant-garde. The Hagens’ exploitation of tone color is particularly effective here.

The question this disc poses is, for whom is it intended? The Brahms, interesting though it may be, is not on the level of the two versions by David Shifrin or the DG recording by Karl Leister; the Grieg is much less frequently recorded, so that some repertoire collectors may wish to buy this SACD for it—in which case, the Brahms will likely be a duplication at least. Some listeners will likely want the multichannel sound. But ultimately, I suspect the audience for this disc will be fans of the Hagen Quartet, to whom it is warmly recommended.

FANFARE: Richard A. Kaplan
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Works on This Recording

Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in B minor, Op. 115 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Jörg Widmann (Clarinet)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Hagen String Quartet
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1891; Austria 
Quartet for Strings in G minor, Op. 27 by Edvard Grieg
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Hagen String Quartet
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1877-1878; Norway 

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