Spiritual Beethoven, spirited Mozart
Chhan Thuan Kiat | Brunei Darussalam | 06/11/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I should say that I bought this concert DVD mainly for the Mozart Qunitet, as I have already got the Beethoven Opus 135 on the Alban Berg disc of Beethoven String Quartets, and in this repertoire the ABQ are difficult to surpass. One might even be tempted to nitpick and say that perhaps they are a tad too smooth and accomplished so polished are they in their pursuit of technical perfection. The Hagen Quartet are amongst the foremost quartets today and enjoy a formidable international reputation for musicality and accurate ensemble music making. Here in this live recording at the Mozarteum in Salzburg in 2000,they play Beethoven's last work with intensity and introspection. Technically faultless they give a stirring account and I particularly enjoyed the slow third movement. They are well recorded and both audio and video are of very high standards. The performers seem to be caught in the glow of a golden light and skin tone, the red-brown hue of the violins/viola/cello and the black of the tuxedos all look very natural. The mood of the Beethoven may be sombre and serious but this soon evaporates when the Hagen Qt. are joined on stage by virtuoso clarinetist Sabine Meyer in an spirited performance of the Mozart Quintet. Meyer is a soloist of the first order and a celebrity in her own right. She plays the basset clarinet here as intended by the composer and what glorious dulcet tones she produces from her instrument. Of course who cannot be seduced by the melodic invention of this work? This is arguably the most sublime music ever written for the clarinet by anyone. Here you can hear how Mozart weaves his magic. The high notes of the clarinet seem to just float whilst in the background the violins and viola murmur and now and again the cello sings its sonorous lines. Exquisite. The larghetto is too beautiful for words and the adagio from the variations (last movement)is just as enchanting. Now pensive, now pastoral, then bursting into sunshine and exuberance, this is a masterpiece to listen to repeatedly and the Hagen Qt. and Sabine Meyer make you want to do just that, again and again and again. Five stars. Buy it. "Must it be?--- It must be. It must be. Out with your money!" --to quote old Ludwig van B (Opus 135, movement III)"
Two Masterworks Played Masterfully
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 06/11/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"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).