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Seen and Heard Recital Review

 


Beethoven, Shostakovich, Haydn: Hagen String Quartet, Wigmore Hall, 23 May, 2005 (CC)


Industrial action by the BBC meant that this BBC lunchtime’s broadcast did not happen. Of all the concerts to pick …


The Hagen’s programming (Beethoven Op. 95; Shostakovich Quartet 7 and Haydn Op. 76/1) was exemplary, a model of its kind. The Haydn was no ‘let’s leave ‘em smiling’ gesture – the hymnic slow movement is an interior statement that reaches all the way to mature Beethoven. But it was Beethoven that came first, the Op. 95 quartet known as the ‘Serioso’ (the composer’s own title). The key of F minor is significant of course (as is the fact that he uses a similar linking harmonic idea here between the slow movement and scherzo as he does between slow movement and finale in the ‘Appassionata’ Sonata). The Hagens dug in in no uncertain terms, the fiery opening standing in stark contrast to its more static continuation. Melodic interchanges occurred under the most intimate of terms, but more importantly there was no let-up to the terse argument. The gorgeous flow of the slow movement nevertheless brought with it a disturbingly ghostly fugato. If the Hagens showed themselves unafraid of coarse sonorities in the Scherzo, the finale showed us the essence of virtuosity. Virtuosity you almost had to look for, decidedly not of the overt kind, completely moving Beethoven’s powerful intellect to the fore.


Shostakovich’s Seventh Quartet, Op. 108 (1960) is one of the shorter of the cycle of fifteen, yet it poses huge interpretative problems. The balance of striking simplicity against ironic edge is very difficult to capture, and the Hagens managed magnificently. One could hear a pin drop in the slow movement – the Hagens combine projected concentration with a pianissimo that has one straining to hear yet which brooks no technical compromise.


Finally, the first of Haydn’s Op. 76. It is in G major, a key generally associated with sunny simplicity. Things could hardly be more different here, as the intense twists and turns of the first movement demonstrated. Four equal talents demonstrated just how rewarding Haydn can be to listen to, as Haydn threw themes around between the four players. There was no holding back in the Scherzo (a true Scherzo, almost diabolical in intent), giving heightened meaning to the rustic solo violin Trio. The finale is surprisingly stormy and minorish, yet it was good to hear people actually laugh out loud when the simple, pizzicato-accompanied folkish melody appears near the end, so endearingly.


A massively impressive concert. The Hagens deserve a major residency in this country somewhere.


Colin Clarke

 



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