Weekend concert scene (Part 3): Hagen Quartet at Shriver Hall
Shriver Hall Concert Series wrapped up its 2009-2010 season with a knock-out performance by the Hagen Quartet -- siblings Lukas (first violin), Veronika (viola) and Clemens (cello) Hagen, Rainer Schmidt (second violin).
The long-admired ensemble, formed in Austria nearly 30 years ago, made its Shriver debut -- and first U.S. appearance in a decade -- with a disarming demonstration of interpretive insight and technical precision. There were jaw-dropping moments throughout the concert, examples of music-making on an uncommonly high plane.
Consider, for example, the time-stopping, soft fade on the last chord of the second movement in Beethoven's E minor 'Razumovsky' Quartet, Op. 59, No. 2. This was truly a sublime moment. For that matter, the whole score benefited from the players' second-nature timing, their grasp of structure, their rich variety of tonal coloring. (The program listed the 'Razumovsky' No. 3, by the way; the change was not communicated in advance to the audience, or, for that matter, to Shriver management.)
The wildest, almost dissonant moments in the Beethoven quartet provided an ideal lead in for Webern's on-the-very-edge-of-tonality Five Pieces, Op. 5. The Hagen players found exquisite, deeply communicative details in every note -- and silence -- of this amazing music. There were particularly profound pianissimi along the way, and some subtly shimmering phrases from violist Veronika Hagen.
While some musicians seem determined to proclaim their coolness by taking pot shots at romantic composers, the Hagen group seemed downright proud to perform
Grieg's over-heated G major Quartet, with its heart-on-sleeve tunes and constantly swirling emotions. I don't think it would be possible to make a stronger case for the piece than was made here. The playing had tremendous tensile strength, with unfailingly secure pitch, superb articulation. But it was the gripping expressiveness that carried the most weight as the musicians turned the quartet into an intense four-act play. I hated to see the curtain come down.
There was a generous encore -- the first movement of Mozart's D major Quartet, K. 575, delivered with the utmost in stylistic grace.
For a taste of the Hagen Quartet's artistry, here's a clip of the group playing Ravel:
PHOTO BY REGINA HECHT COURTESY OF OPUS 3 ARTISTS