Beethoven: String Quartet in E minor, Op. 59/2 (Rasumowsky)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven,Mozart,Webern
LABELS: Myrios Classics
WORKS: Beethoven: String Quartet in E minor, Op. 59/2 (Rasumowsky); Mozart: String Quartet in E flat, K428; Webern: Fünf Sätze, Op. 5; Bagatellen, Op. 9
PERFORMER: Hagen Quartet

Much the best performances here are the expressionist miniatures by Webern. They find the Hagen Quartet meticulously accurate in every detail, without ever sounding in the least bit dry, and it’s hard to imagine them better or more warmly played. The same, alas, can’t be said of the remaining works here.
he Mozart, in particular, is terribly mannered, with the music’s coherence constantly undermined by exaggerated rests and tempo-changes. The ‘stop-go’ account of the panting two-note phrases at the start of the finale seems to separate the opening bars from what follows, rather than sounding like an integral part of the musical discourse. And the minuet movement is scarcely less eccentric – the minuet is unusually fast, and the trio extremely slow and sentimentalised. 
The performance of Beethoven’s second Razumovsky Quartet shows the dangers of placing more faith in the surprisingly quick metronome markings the composer provided many years later, than in the movement-headings themselves.  As a result, the wonderful Adagio is conspicuously lacking in serenity and expressiveness, while the following movement is taken at a breakneck speed very much at odds with its ‘Allegretto’ marking.
The Hagen players have produced some fine performances of this repertoire in the past, but they now clearly feel the need to rethink their interpretative stance. Perhaps eventually they will reach a more balanced view of the music. Meanwhile, the Alban Berg Quartet offer an elegant performance of the Mozart, and the Takács Quartet are more compelling in the Beethoven. Misha Donat