String Quartet in D, K499 (Hoffmeister)
String Quartet in B flat, 589 (Prussian)
String Quartet in F, K590
[Lukas Hagen & Rainer Schmidt (violins); Veronika Hagen (viola) & Clemens Hagen (cello)]
Recorded in the Minnesängersaal, Wiesloch in August 2000 (K499) and March 2004 (K589); and in Schloss Mondsee, Mondsee in January 2003 (K590)
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: October 2004
CD No: DG 477 5081
Duration: 78 minutes
I must admit a certain ambivalence to the Hagen Quartet, there can be something prissy, even contrived, about these musicians’ approach; equally, on some past issues, the recording quality given the players has disappointed, especially when the acoustic is too spacious and reverberant.
This CD, however, is a total joy, and beautifully recorded. The ‘Hoffmeister’ Quartet, written as a one-off for the publisher, is music of grace and contrapuntal linearity, and realised here with wonderful unanimity and almost spectral interplay. Music of high art played with consummate ease and vivid communication.
The second and third ‘Prussian’ Quartets complete the CD; music of royal connection – Mozart had been commissioned by Friedrich Wilhelm II to write keyboard sonatas for the king’s eldest daughter and also a set of six quartets. Mozart completed only three.
Both are works of essential simplicity, the cello part being particularly grateful – this was the king’s instrument. Always keep in with your employer! The music is pleasingly melodic, economic and transparent, which never hinders Mozart’s powers of invention and which allows the Hagen Quartet to display its superfine sound, equable balance, dialoguing skills and range of inflexions.
This is classical music in the true sense, and afforded an ideally uncomplicated approach by the Hagen, nowhere purer than in the sublime Larghetto of K589 and always alive to Mozart’s wit and surprises. The nimbleness of K590’s finale is especially pleasing, a masterpiece of composition and realisation, and completes a performance of this work that is notably attentive to dynamics and tempo markings.
The recordings of K499 and K589 are how chamber music should sound – intimate and unencumbered; the listener is the ‘fifth member’ of the quartet. K590 has a similar perspective but the acoustic has an appreciable resonance that can be a little troublesome. No matter, this is an outstanding release.