Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
String Quartet in G major, K387 Spring (1782) [30.22]
String Quartet in B flat major, K458 Hunt (1784) [28.32]
Hagen Quartet (Lukas Hagen (violin 1), Rainer Schmidt (violin 2), Veronika Hagen (viola), Clemens Hagen (cello))
rec. December 2014, Sendesaal, Bremen, Germany

The Hagen Quartet was founded in 1981 in Germany. Its long relationship with Deutsche Grammophon has been fruitful producing in excess of forty CDs. From 2013 the Hagen has been performing on a set of Antonio Stradivari instruments known as the ‘Paganini’ Quartet, once owned by Niccol˛ Paganini. These are on loan from the Nippon Music Foundation. Prior to this December 2014 recording the Hagen had toured widely with a series of recitals entirely devoted to Mozart Quartets.

While Mozart may not have markedly advances the form of the string quartet his individuality enabled him to create a rare depth of feeling and emotion, rarely encountered in Haydn. A set of six string quartets was begun in 1782 only a year after Mozart had moved from Salzburg to Vienna. Published in 1785 this has become known as the ‘Haydn Quartets’ owing to its dedication to the great composer, Mozart’s older contemporary and firm friend.

First on the album is the String Quartet in G major, the first of the ‘Haydn Quartets’, a work that displays Mozart’s gift for polyphonic writing. Playing with deep concentration the Hagen has the full measure of this concentrated and elaborate score. I especially admire the third movement Andante Cantabile for its sense of introspection played with aching tenderness.

Next the String Quartet in B flat major - known as the ‘Hunt’ - the title of which is probably explained by the main theme suggesting a hunting call. On the surface the quartet appears to be the least profound of the six and the closest in style to that of Haydn. It is an uplifting, serious and inventive work. With its insight and controlled musicianship the Hagen brings out the music's expressive beauty and tasteful excellence. Of special appeal is the Menuetto: Moderato for its elegant writing and playfulness. In both works it is hard to fault the innate musicianship of the players especially in their concern for refined textures, impeccable ensemble and intonation. The Myrios sound team has gone as close as it dares in providing crystal-clear quality and an ideal balance between the instruments.

For some time in these two Mozart works I’ve been a firm advocate of the Emerson Quartet (Deutsche Grammophon) and the period instrument ensemble Quatuor Mosaiques (Na´ve). I consider these compelling Hagen accounts to be of the same elevated quality. This release is well worth adding to any chamber music collection.

Michael Cookson

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