Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Quartet No. 8 in E minor, Op. 59/2 Razumovsky (1805/6) [32:45]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
String Quartet No.16 in E flat major, K.428 (1783) [26:02]
Anton WEBERN (1883-1945)
Five Movements (Fünf Sätze) for string quartet, Op. 5 (1909) [12:18]
Six Bagatelles (Sechs Bagatellen) for string quartet, Op. 9 (1911-13) [4:29]
Hagen Quartet - Lukas Hagen (violin I); Rainer Schmidt (violin II); Veronika Hagen (viola); Clemens Hagen (cello)
rec. May and December 2010, Siemens Villa, Berlin, Germany.

The Hagen Quartet comprise three siblings from one Salzburg family: Lukas, Veronika and Clemens Hagen. The line-up is complete with German violinist Rainer Schmidt who joined the quartet in 1987. 2011 marks their thirtieth anniversary which was founded in 1981. Following a fruitful twenty year relationship with Deutsche Grammophon - producing forty-five CDs - this Super Audio hybrid CD is their first release with Mainz-based Myrios Classics.

Beethoven wrote his set of three Razumovsky quartets, Op. 59 in 1805/6 as a result of a commission from Count Andreas Razumovsky, the Russian ambassador in Vienna. This was a wonderfully productive time for Beethoven with the writing of several major works including the Appassionata Sonata, the Piano Concerto No. 4, the Symphony No.4 and the Violin Concerto. The Hagen chose to start this programme with the Quartet No. 8, the second Razumovsky.

In the splendidly played opening Allegro they avoid exaggerating the dynamics. Immersed in a steely beauty with a sensitive probing for spirituality in the Andante the Hagen underlines the episodes with biting ferocity. There’s fleet-footed playing in the Allegretto - a movement of lyrical dance themes. The Finale, Presto is vivacious with rapid-fire delivery. Overall many will want their Beethoven played with additional passion and force.

Mozart met Haydn in 1781 and soon after became profoundly impressed with his older contemporary’s set of six quartets, Op. 33 known as the Russian Quartets. Mozart later dedicated to Haydn a set of six quartets that became known as the Haydn Quartets. The String Quartet No.16 K.428 was composed in 1783 around a year after Mozart’s marriage to Constanze Weber and the completion of Die Entführung aus dem Serail, K.384. The quartet is affectionate with moments of impressive serenity.

Careful, neat and precise playing from the Hagen in the opening movement is frequently serious and sometimes beautiful. The adroit shifts in tempi affect the prevailing mood so impressively but in a subtle manner rather than with any sense of wildness. With little in the way of memorable melody in the Andante the Hagen create a curious mood predominantly calm and tender on the surface with a disconcertingly tense undercurrent. Predominantly dance-like the Allegretto is immediately reminiscent of an attractive bucolic scene. With a dark tinge to the landscape things are not as carefree as they might initially seem. Light and active playing borders on the frenetic - here one can imagine a song-bird hopping from branch to branch. The shifting tempi are reminiscent of the opening movement.

At the time of writing the Five Movements (Fünf Sätze) for string quartet, Op. 5 in 1909 Anton Webern had completed his composition lessons with Arnold Schoenberg. Such a concentrated score, the Five Movements could be regarded as a backlash against late-Romantic excess, such as Mahler’s Symphony No. 9; a contemporaneous work that lasts around 75/85 minutes in performance. Composed in 1911/13 Webern had to wait over a decade before his Six Bagatelles for String Quartet, Op.9 was given its premiere in 1924. Lasting only 57 bars the Six Bagatelles is the embodiment of brevity, lasting four and a half minutes. These pieces are atonal with the adventurous Webern experimenting with a twelve-tone serial technique. In these stimulating and adventurous Webern scores the exemplary Hagen plays with clarity, precision and coherence. Their ultra-disciplined and unflappable approach comes at the expense a degree of expression, vitality and spontaneity. Using broad dynamics the Hagen add a cool steely greyness to their engaging tone colouring.

Beautifully played and recorded this recital is characteristic of the Hagen Quartet.

Michael Cookson

Beautifully played and recorded this recital is characteristic of the Hagen Quartet.