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Mozart, Haas and Shostakovich

Hagen Quartet

Mozart String Quartet in C K465 ‘Dissonance’
Georg Friedrich Haas String Quartet No. 6 (UK première)
Co-commissioned by Wigmore Hall
Shostakovich String Quartet No. 8 in C minor Op. 110

Wigmore Hall, 29 January 2011

An interesting but, for us, unsatisfying concert, although it was well received by a capacity audience at Wigmore Hall.

The Hagens (3 siblings + Rainer Schmidt, 2nd violin - bearded) are long established and justly rated amongst the best quartets on the European circuit.

We came mainly to hear the new work by Austrian composer Georg Friedrich Haas (b. 1953). His note was daunting in prospect; microtonal tunings "to alienate the listener, destroying fixed points of reference". Well, it certainly did that and the complex harmonic tapestry, initially intriguing, became tedious as it continued, especially the buzzing sounds which brought to mind irreverently the Flight of the Bumble Bee.

Mozart's K 465 was given with exaggerated contrasts and point-making, fs very loud, ps very soft. Shostakovich's most often played, No 8, suffered (for us) on that account; familiarity had all but extinguished emotional response to an important, indeed, iconic work composed in the wake of the Dresden bombing; he'd spoken of it as "an ideologically deficient quartet nobody needs", referring to his difficulties with the Communist party and suicidal feelings around the time.

Peter Grahame Woolf

Sample Haas orchestral music Natures mortes at Spotify - a rough, throbbing ride !

Beethoven & Debussy, Widmann & Janacek

Beethoven- String Quartet in G Op. 18 No.2 (1798-1800)
Jörg Widmann- String Quartet No. 2 ‘Choralquartett’ (2003)
Debussy- String Quartet in G minor Op. 10 (1893)

Hagen Quartet
Lucas Hagen & Rainer Schmidt - violins
Veronica Hagen- viola
Clemens Hagen- cello

Wigmore Hall, 3 December 2009

To play early Beethoven well requires both virtuosity and perfection. The Hagens (three siblings of the original four, who were prizewinners in 1981) sparkled with wit and the cellist’s solos were particularly articulate. However, to my ears the leader’s tone sounded slightly forced and at times I would have liked to have heard more of the inner parts.

The Hagen Quartet impressed with a true unison to open Widmann’s Choralquartett, first heard at Wigmore Hall in last year's Jörg Widmann Focus series. It was hard to believe that four instruments were playing; even more remarkable that all the multifarious strange sounds heard were created solely by string instruments. Widmann makes full use of extended techniques in his writing; the Choralquartett is a work which must be seen to appreciate its theatricality. The Hagens kept the audience spell bound, using their instruments like magicians.

The highlights of the Hagen Quartet’s interpretation of Debussy’s String Quartet were the exquisite viola solos in the Andantino, doucement expressif. In the second movement, Assez vif et bien rythmé, the ensemble was tight throughout the pizzicato passages. My one complaint was a lack of rhythmic panache in the final movement.

The first movement of Janacek's 2nd quartet was an unusual encore, by no means the typically light way to end a concert. The Hagens excelled themselves here and performed with passion; conveying the nature of the letters exchanged between Janacek and Kamillia Stösslová. The audience were left wishing the full quartet had been on the programme.

Anna Michel