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Notes from the 2013 Schubertiade ( 7 ) • Hagen Quartett II

Of Serious and Harp-playing Beethoven Cows

Nothing could easily rival in natural charm the countryside of alpine pastures in the Bregenzerwald on a bright, sunny day, surrounded by friendly and busily lawn-mowing cows, great vistas of villages dotted across the region, valleys below, lesser hills, and towering mountains. The ashen rock and lushly green pastures change from one dramatic color-coordination to another, depending on the sun and the mood of the clouds. Insects whisper into one's ear with soothing buzz. Everything and everybody seems to have a gleam in their eye and a smile on their lips that, if it weren't late summer but the height of spring, might be thought of as love: from the dragonflies to the two black colts that took to annoying the cows every so often by chasing them about the place with hijinks. Meanwhile it's best to make sure to check on that curiously grazing cow right next to you, so that it won't eat your blackberry with an apologetic look... should you happen to have put it next to you while lazing about in the grass enjoying the view.

>Notes from the 2013 Schubertiade ( 1 ) • An Introduction
>Notes from the 2013 Schubertiade ( 2 ) • Prégardien Père et Fils
>Notes from the 2013 Schubertiade ( 3 ) • Belcea Quartet & Thomas Quasthoff
>Notes from the 2013 Schubertiade ( 4 ) • Belcea Quartet & Till Fellner
>Notes from the 2013 Schubertiade ( 5 ) • Diana Damrau & Xavier de Maistre
>Notes from the 2013 Schubertiade ( 6 ) • Lemony Bostridge, Lascivious Röschmann
>Notes from the 2013 Schubertiade ( 8 ) • Andreas Scholl & Tamar Halperin

As hard as it is to trade the countryside, the sun, and the smell of grass and herbs  (essential experiences for anyone attending the Schubertiade) in for a concert hall, it has to be done: Duty calls and the sweet duty consisted in this particular case of three Beethoven quartets (of a whole cycle) with the Hagen Quartet who seem to have been performing this programming-non-novelty wherever they stop for gas.

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L.v.Beethoven, String Quartets opp.18/3 & 5, 135,
Hagen Quartett
Myrios SACD

The opening quartet op. 95 “Serioso” was terribly serious—perfect, I suppose, if one makes Beethoven’s own wishes the measuring stick by which to judge it. But then he also wished that the work never be performed in public, an order that is blithely ignored (even by historically informed performance groups), but might be understood when one hears it in contrast to the lively op.18 or one of the Razumovsky Quartets. Opus 95 is certainly the quince among Beethoven’s String Quartets: of  low and difficult yield and tart as hell, however promising in fragrance. Its Allegretto is a relentlessly angular go-for-it affair, the last movement’s Larghetto rather all over the place, and with life returning in the closing Allegretto agitato. The other stand-alone middle quartet that the Hagen Quartet performed, op. 74 (“Harp”) had its most darkly beautiful moments in the Adagio, with the brief pizzicato harp-element from which comes the semi-inspired nickname, particularly well done.

Opus 18, no.6 was light and marvelous, casual in the Adagio, not burdening the listener with portentousness. If Clemens Hagen (cello) was the sonorous calm center in the “La Malinconia” Adagio and beyond, first violinist Lukas Hagen—although most admirably a perfectly equal member without primarius-illusions of grandeur—was the weak spot with a forced and congested sound and—most unusual for the known-to-be-laser-precise Hagen Quartet—intonation and accuracy issues.

Picture © & courtesy Schubertiade GmbH. Detail; Click to see entire picture.