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Beethoven & Debussy, Widmann & Janacek

Ludwig van Beethoven- String Quartet in G Op. 18 No.2 (1798-1800)
Jörg Widmann- String Quartet No. 2 ‘Choralquartett’ (2003)
Claude Debussy- String Quartet in G minor Op. 10 (1893)

Hagen Quartet
Lucas Hagen & Rainer Schmidt - violins
Veronica Hagen- viola
Clemens Hagen- cello

Wigmore Hall, 3 December 2009

To play early Beethoven well requires both virtuosity and perfection. The Hagens (three siblings of the original four, who were prizewinners in 1981) sparkled with wit and the cellist’s solos were particularly articulate. However, to my ears the leader’s tone sounded slightly forced and at times I would have liked to have heard more of the inner parts.

The Hagen Quartet impressed with a true unison to open Widmann’s Choralquartett, first heard at Wigmore Hall in last year's Jörg Widmann Focus series. It was hard to believe that four instruments were playing; even more remarkable that all the multifarious strange sounds heard were created solely by string instruments. Widmann makes full use of extended techniques in his writing; the Choralquartett is a work which must be seen to appreciate its theatricality. The Hagens kept the audience spell bound, using their instruments like magicians.

The highlights of the Hagen Quartet’s interpretation of Debussy’s String Quartet were the exquisite viola solos in the Andantino, doucement expressif. In the second movement, Assez vif et bien rythmé, the ensemble was tight throughout the pizzicato passages. My one complaint was a lack of rhythmic panache in the final movement.

The first movement of Janacek's 2nd quartet was an unusual encore, by no means the typically light way to end a concert. The Hagens excelled themselves here and performed with passion; conveying the nature of the letters exchanged between Janacek and Kamillia Stösslová. The audience were left wishing the full quartet had been on the programme.

Anna Michel