Grieg • Brahms
Despite its undoubted influence on the young Debussy, Grieg’s G minor Quartet remains seriously undervalued. Detractors consider it to be over-scored and episodic, pointing to the fact that Grieg, a pianist and miniaturist, was incapable of writing effectively for strings and was ill at ease with manipulating larger structures.
Yet any doubts as to the originality, vision and coherence of Grieg’s turbulent score are immediately dispelled in this revelatory performance. The Hagen Quartet approach the music with no preconceptions, bringing an astonishingly fresh, imaginative control of sonority and a subtle variety of texture to each section.
At the same time, they create sufficient tension and fluidity of tempo to maintain a dramatically vivid and cohesive narrative. Although George Bernard Shaw was rude about the Brahms Clarinet Quintet after hearing one of its earliest performances in England, no such stigma has dogged its reputation as one of the indisputable masterpieces of 19th-century chamber music. Once again, the Hagen Quartet, working in tandem with the wonderfully mellifluous clarinettist Jörg Widmann, deliver a mesmerising performance that holds you spellbound from first bar to last. True, their approach employs a much purer and transparent texture than is often encountered in this work; it may not suit those who prefer a warmer, indulgent reading. But there is little doubt, too, that the performers really get to the heart of Brahms’s music, powerfully conveying all its sadness, regret and nostalgia. This is an outstanding release in every respect.