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April 26, 2010

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:



Posted by Tim Smith at 3:07 PM | | Comments (2)


Previously, I thought that Tim Smith's comments were cut way way down by the newspaper; I wanted to read his extensive comments. So the blog is where this should be. Please write more! From a note to a friend: The performance was supurb. But I had a feeling in incompleteness - which was resolved with the encore! I loved the Webern: Every single harmony / rhythm was “consonant” to me! And I felt that that much of that piece was like nature. Mozart is geometric, so the relation to nature is land contours etc, whereas this was like the immense diversity and closeness of plants and color shades.

You may want to correct a typo. While one would not notice a difference in pronounciation, the name Hagen spells with an "e" as second vowel.

Corrections made. At least I got it right a couple of times. (I hate writing in haste, but that's all I seem to do these days, and the typos just keep coming. Thanks for letting me know.TIM

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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