The Hagen Quartet in Schubert: Perfect Lunchtime Fare

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Schubert: Hagen String Quartet [Lukas Hagen, Rainer Schmidt (violins); Iris Hagen-Juda (viola); Clemens Hagen (cello)] Wigmore Hall, London, 18.4.2016. (CC)

String Quartet in G, D 887 (1826)

The more eagle-eyed readers will have spotted a change to the line-up of the Hagen Quartet in the title to this review: Veronika Hagen, the quartet’s violist, had endured a shoulder injury, and, astonishingly, another member of the Hagen family, Iris Hagen-Juda, stepped into the breach. Impeccably, as it turned out.

Schubert’s G-major Quartet, D887 operates on the same vast canvas as his Ninth Symphony It certainly has links to the String Quintet in C, D956, written the next year, in its sense of timelessness and its use of the interrupted cadence after huge build-ups that fully lead us to expect closure. D887 is a masterpiece of the highest order, and demands a performance that can do it justice.

Including the exposition repeat in the first movements takes the performance time to an hour (give or take), and it is to the performer’s credit that the full audience was held mostly to silence – although three out of four people in the row in front of us seemed at one point asleep. One certainly was, given the gentle snores.  Perhaps the meditative aspect of Schubert is not suited to a Monday lunchtime; yet for those of us who remained conscious, this was a rewarding experience. The blanched tone of the outset and the tender, Bruckner pre-echo tremolandi of the development led to intense drama.  No matter what dynamic level, the warmth of the quartet’s tone remained intact. Iris Hagen-Juda’s viola was lovely and sweet-toned, while Lukas Hagen’s cello was wonderfully eloquent. The sheer control on display in the recapitulation was fabulous to experience.

Perhaps it was only in retrospect that the first movement was not fully settled-in, as the performance went from strength to strength. That cantabile cello flourished in the Andante un poco mosso and it was here that one fully established that Iris Hagen-Juda both blended in well but also had her own defined identity. The Scherzo was the highlight of the performance, perfectly blended and controlled; the simply gorgeous cello tune of the Trio was yet another high point. The extended finale (that said, it’s less than half the length of the first movement) was blessed by an intentionally slightly discombobulatory opening before the tripping, carefree subject established itself fully. There was a lovely sense of balance by the end, of everything falling into place. The enthusiastic ovation was fully deserved – rightly, there was no encore.

This was a perfect way to spend a Monday lunchtime.

Colin Clarke



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