Mozart: String Quartet in G, K387; String Quartet in D minor, K421; String Quartet in E flat, K428; String Quartet in B flat, K458 (Hunt)’ String Quartet in A, K464; String Quartet in C, K465 (Dissonance)

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Mozart
LABELS: DG
WORKS: String Quartet in G, K387; String Quartet in D minor, K421; String Quartet in E flat, K428; String Quartet in B flat, K458 (Hunt)’ String Quartet in A, K464; String Quartet in C, K465 (Dissonance)
PERFORMER: Hagen Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 471 024-2
For sheer finesse the Hagen is up there with its fellow Austrian ensemble the Alban Berg Quartet. The players’ collective sonority – aptly slimmed down for Mozart – is elegantly honed, their ensemble and internal balance impeccable. No subtlety of Mozart’s part-writing escapes them. The first two quartets of the Haydn set come off specially well. The tense, disquieting performance of the G major’s astonishing anti-minuet really vindicates the choice of tempo – the Allegro of Mozart’s autograph rather then the more commonly adopted Allegretto of the first edition. And I have seldom heard the Andante played with such hushed absorption. In the D minor’s first movement the Hagen consistently stresses the music’s melancholy fatalism, imbuing even the agitated dialogues of the development with a sense of elegiac resignation. There are many memorable things in the remaining quartets: say, in the veiled, withdrawn colourings in the Adagio of the Hunt or the mellow reflectiveness of the opening movement of the E flat. In one or two movements, though, the Hagen’s characteristic rhythmic flexibility seems exaggerated, compromising the music’s natural flow: in, say, the opening movement of the A major (which emerges here as wayward and disjointed) or the minuet of the Dissonance, where the players elongate the rests and tease out the quiet cadential phrase on each of its appearances – a witty effect once, perhaps, but not when replicated half a dozen times. Quibbles aside, these superbly finished performances reinforce the Hagen’s credentials as sympathetic, discerning Mozartians. Its versions of the G major and the D minor are as far-seeing as any, though for the complete Haydn set I’d go for either the Alban Berg, Seventies vintage (Teldec) – playing with all the Hagen’s refinement and command of detail but none of their occasional mannerisms – or the Mosaïques Quartet, whose performances make the most eloquent case for period instruments in this repertoire. Richard Wigmore

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