This is the third DVD of the Hagen Quartet that I've reviewed. I also gave the earlier DVDs a five-star rating: Mozart: String Quartets, Hagen Quartett - Schubert: String Quartet in D Minor "Death and the Maiden"; Ravel: String Quartet in F Major. As I've said before, surely the Hagens are the best quartet to come out of Austria since the Berg Quartet. (In the interest of accuracy, I should mention that the second violinist Rainer Schmidt is German. The original second violinist, the fourth Hagen sibling, Angelika, was replaced by a cousin, Annette Bik, but in the late 1980s replaced by Schmidt. Throughout their existence they have called Salzburg home.) The Hagens are, I suppose, the European equivalent of the Emerson Quartet: spot-on accuracy, rhythmic aliveness, clean sound, equally at home in the classic and contemporary quartet literature. There are those who assume that because the Hagens originally made their mark in newer works they would sound too lean, too driven for the Classic or Romantic literature. Not so. They are perfectly able to modify their approach to fit the period of the work at hand. And that is the case in these performances of the Beethoven Op. 135 Quartet and the Mozart Clarinet Quintet. In the Mozart they are joined by one of the foremost clarinetists before the public, the almost-legendary Sabine Meyer. These are live performances from the stage of Salzburg's Mozarteum, recorded in 2000.
The Beethoven Quartet No. 16 in F Major, Op. 135, is the composer's last completed quartet and one of the briefest. It is less anguished than the other late quartets, perhaps because it may have represented Beethoven's acceptance of his own imminent death. It has the motto 'Muss es sein? -- es muss sein!'('Must it be? -- It must be!'). Its geniality and serenity come as something of a surprise after the intensity of the preceding quartets. The Hagens do not, therefore, try to make a more intense statement than the music requires. Their interiority in the heavenly Lento and their vivacity in the Vivace are appropriately judged. The Finale, which has the motto as headnote, is not, as one might expect, doleful, but even rather light-hearted. The Hagens convey the work's final triumph over doubt and fear.
Mozart's Clarinet Quintet, K. 581, is one of the glories of chamber music that includes wind instruments. It was the first notable quintet for clarinet and string quartet and was inspired by Mozart's admiration for the clarinetist Anton Stadler. Indeed, the work is sometimes referred to as the 'Stadler Quintet.' Stadler was particularly noted for his use of the clarinet's lowest ('chalumeau') register with its liquid velvet sound. The quintet has a plethora of remarkably memorable melodies, at least five in the first movement alone. They are, of course, mostly given to the clarinet and one must say that Meyer's tone and phrasing are perfectly attuned for them. Mozart also makes use of quicksilver arpeggios for the clarinet, echoed by the two violins, in a passage in the development of the first movmeent that always makes me shiver with delight. They are played here with joy and ease. The Larghetto is a lovely arioso for the clarinet accompanied by muted strings. The Minuet is more ardent than is usual for the time and contains, as its second Trio, a rustic peasant dance of particular charm. The Finale is a theme and variations. The theme is playful, even a little insolent. It is put through six variations, of which my favorite is the third with its soulful viola solo (played with ardor by Veronika Hagen). The work concludes with the sprightly sixth variation which restores our good spirits. A lovely work played gorgeously by these major artists.
There is a brief encore in this recording of a live concert: the Menuetto from Carl Maria von Weber's Clarinet Quintet, Op. 34. The appreciative audience make their approval evident.
Video is excellent. There are occasional slight extraneous stage noises (e.g., breathing, foot shuffling) in the audio, but nothing to ruin the overall impression.
Running time: 72 mins; Format: NTSC 16:9; Sound: PCM Stereo, DD 5.1, DTS 5.1; Region code: 0 (worldwide).