United Kingdom Mozart: Hagen Quartet (Lukas Hagen, Rainer Schmidt, violins; Veronika Hagen, viola; Clemens Hagen, cello). Wigmore Hall, London, 26.1.2015 (CC)
String Quartet in B flat, K458, ‘Hunt’
String Quartet in A, K 464
String Quartet in C, K465, ‘Dissonance’
As part of the Wigmore Hall’s ongoing series The Mozart Odyssey, the Hagen Quartet presented three of the composer’s best-loved chamber works. The Hagen Quartet is in the top stratum of string quartets active today and is able to mix the highest possible level of technical accomplishment with supreme musicality. These two qualities, when combined together in Mozart result in the sublime. Almost in recognition of this, the audience at the Wigmore was the most silent group of people I have heard – or rather not heard – in a long time. The spell was well and truly cast.
The sprightly rhythms of the well-known ‘Hunt’ Quartet, K458 (1784) began the hour-long first half. Beautifully sprung, the whole was given with luscious tone, a conversation between four equal voices. The first movement development had the perfect amount of unrest, while the Menuetto that followed had the most delightful Trio. But it was the slow movement (here an Adagio) that impressed, and touched the soul, the most. The cantabile line and the exquisite control of each player together conspired to leave an indelible impression.
Only a little less familiar is the A major Quartet, K464 (1785), in Mozart’s sunniest key. Yet it is also contrapuntally complex. The Hagen performance was magnificent in its honouring of Mozart’s harmonic shadings and the way in which tutti rests buzzed with energy. In an almost Webernian sense, silences were very much a vital part of the musical argument. The sense of dialogue between the players reached a peak in the Andante third movement, while the finale was handled with a sense of awe, moments of stasis making maximal impact. The overall impression of this performance, though, was of unmistakable affection from the players for the piece.
There was just one piece in the second half: the magnificent C major, K465, ‘Dissonance’ (also dating from 1785). The anguished harmonies over a pulsating cello bass-line in the opening Adagio unforgettably give the Quartet its nickname. Here impeccably shaded, the still-modern writing threw the brightness of the Allegro into high relief. Mozart does not let us forget the pain of the opening, though, and neither did the Hagens. Despite the excellence of the restless Trio to the third movement and the chipper rhythms of the finale, it was the depths of the Andante cantabile that shall remain long in the memory. It is such a treat to hear a quartet in which intonation is so consistently excellent that the listener can concentrate solely on the utterances of the music itself. This was a remarkable performance, to close a remarkable evening.