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21.10.05

Dip Your Ears, Addendum 48b (X-Ray Beethoven)

available at AmazonL.v.Beethoven, opp. 127, 132,
Hagen Quartett
DG 4775705

The Hagen Quartett continues with Beethoven. This marvelous quartet is too rarely heard in the U.S. – even their recordings are often hard to get here. With the Peterson Quartet and the inimitable Zehetmair Quartet they are among the finest operating German veteran string quartets. I assume you have purchased or will purchase or plan to get as a gift the latest and final Beethoven installment of the Takács, so talking you into yet more Beethoven might be difficult.

The Hagen's recent Mozart was not bad, but in Mozart their strength is not played out as much as in Beethoven. And in Beethoven nowhere more than in the late quartets. What the Hagens (Lukas, Veronika, Clemens--with Rainer Schmidt on second violin) do to the Heiliger Dankgesang in op. 132 is almost creepy. They are to Beethoven what Boulez is to Mahler's Third. You see (or hear, rather) details and connections that you can't in the score or other interpretations, because their playing is of the most nuanced order. It is light, modern, clean. It reminds me of minimalist architecture--lots of glass, brushed aluminum, clean and bright wood. Light-flooded, by all means, these performances are not clinical, though. It isn't the perfection of the Emerson they bring... it is a more refined perfection, a more introspective type. Neither here nor in op. 127 do they resemble the Takács in any way... nor any quartet I know of. Theirs is Beethoven like that hot, unattainable supermodel. We adore the beauty from afar, but we know that we are not going home with her. Our girlfriend is more approachable, cuddles with us, and eats Chunky Monkey ice cream on occasion. Our girlfriend's name is Vegh. Or Budapest, Juilliard, Guarneri, Italiano. Not Hagen. The chance to spend a night with her, alas, is irresistible. Just don't tell Takács.