United Kingdom Mozart, Kurtág, Schubert: Hagen Quartet [Lukas Hagen (violin), Rainer Schmidt (violin), Veronika Hagen (viola), Clemens Hagen (cello)], Wigmore Hall, London. 18.4.2016. (LB)
Mozart – String Quartet in D minor K.421
Kurtág –Hommage à Mihály András (12 Microludes) Op.13
Schubert – String Quartet in A minor D804 ‘Rosamunde’
The Hagen Quartet, comprising three family members, a long-term guest in the person of second violinist Rainer Schmidt, and with thirty-five years in the public arena, is generally recognised to be one of the world’s pre-eminent string quartets. They are undoubtedly a slick and effective machine, and treated the Wigmore audience to a meticulously well prepared, if mannered, performance of Mozart, Kurtág and Schubert last night.
The opening allegro movement of Mozart’s D minor quartet K.421 began at a tempo that suggested anything but allegro, and gently unfurled itself until achieving a momentum commensurate with contemporary parameters.
Whilst the Hagen Quartet’s at times strident senza vibrato almost willfully acknowledged the influences of historically informed performance, many of the other expressive devices the quartet employed, and the seemingly abstract manner in which they did so, seemed curiously out of place in the Classical era, and the hiatus that routinely preceded every nuance interrupted continuity and came across as mannered.
Every movement raised at least one point of controversy, but the supreme unanimity and utter conviction with which the ensemble presented their view of Mozart could have left nobody in any doubt of their musical fervor and intellectual commitment.
Kurtág’s characteristic twelve microludes, each of about a minute’s duration, fared especially well. Extreme dynamics, ranging from the dreamiest of pianissimos to the most ferocious fortissimos, clattering col legnos and ghostly sul ponticellos, were all meticulously articulated and delivered with the utmost assurance.
The Schubert, whilst lovingly and sincerely presented, suffered much the same fate as the Mozart had in the first half. It spoke, however beautifully and judiciously, in single words, not sentences, let alone paragraphs or chapters. The journey through Schubert’s ‘Rosamunde’ Quartet was endlessly interrupted by the compulsion to stop to smell every flower and turn every single stone along the way.
It is perhaps not only the Hagen Quartet’s Mozart or Schubert that is unorthodox but its entire musical outlook. That their performances polarise opinion and provoke discussion is both desirable and healthy, and the music world is much the richer for such confident and penetrating musicianship.