WORKS: String Quartet in F minor, Op. 95
PERFORMER: Hagen Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 457 615-2
‘Quartett serioso’ was Beethoven’s own bilingual subtitle for his F minor Quartet. It was, he said curiously, intended for a small circle of connoisseurs, and was not to be performed in public. Certainly, it is an extraordinarily severe work, and the Hagen Quartet gives it a searingly intense performance. These players take the composer’s very fast metronome markings at face-value, and the Allegretto agitato finale, in particular, is much quicker than one is used to. For once, however, the tempo relationship between the main body of the piece and the strangely disembodied Allegro coda in the major emerges as the composer intended, with a whole bar of the Allegro unfolding at the same pulse as a single beat of the preceding tempo.
The Hagen Quartet strikes me as rather less successful in Schubert’s G major Quartet – a work as expansive as the Beethoven is concentrated, and certainly one of the hardest in the repertoire. The performance here is one that seldom seems to flow as it should; and while Schubert’s many pianissimo passages are admirably hushed, the music at such moments often lacks warmth. No one would want the astonishingly violent outburst at the heart of the slow movement to sound at all comfortable, but the Hagen’s rather spiky playing – thrown into relief by an over-analytical recording – leaves one wanting more depth of tone. The Takács Quartet are rather more successful here; and they certainly have more brilliance and sparkle in the scherzo, where the Hagen sounds uncharacteristically over-cautious. Misha Donat