Wednesday, 2 March 2016

HAGEN QUARTET Recital / Review

Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Concert Hall
Tuesday (1 March 2016)

How lucky we are in Singapore to have the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory which presents class classical acts in its Visiting Artist Series, almost for next to nothing. We got to hear Masaaki Suzuki conduct Bach cantatas (January) and Konstantin Scherbakov play Beethoven (February) for free, and tickets for the renowned Hagen Quartet's recital sold for a nominal $20 ($10 for seniors and students). One has to pinch oneself that all this is indeed happening in Singapore, and not in Tokyo or London (which would have cost many pretty pennies).

The Salzburg-based Hagen Quartet performed an all-Austrian programme of string quartets, indeed fitting as they come from the land that is the cradle of the string quartet form. Even the Haydn and Mozart quartets chosen for their Singapore debut were not exactly the most popular ones, which made this very intimate recital all the more intriguing.   

Haydn's String Quartet in C major (Op.54 No.2) immediately revealed the tightness of ensemble from violinists Lukas Hagen and Rainer Schmidt, violist Iris Hagen-Juda (Lukas' wife, substituting for his sib Veronika) and cellist Clemens Hagen. Theirs was one of unspoken chemistry, developed through years of working together. There were no histrionics or superficially outward display, just four disparate parts merging into one, every entry carefully weighted and voiced. 

Haydn's craftsmanship and wit was allowed to shine through. Quite unusual for the composer, the finale was a slow movement with a more animated central section to liven things up. The contrasts played up were fascinating, bringing the work to a quiet and sublime close.

There was a softly-shaded dramatic intensity to Mozart's String Quartet in D minor (K.421), one work that does not hit one in the face but instead sizzles quietly under its tonal expositions. Again the ensemble was immaculate, and the inner tension gets under one's skin purely by suggestion rather than directly stating the obvious. 

Both central movements brooded like before, but the first violin's jaunty dance in the Trio section of the 3rd movement, wonderfully 'danced' by Lukas, seemed like a ray of sunshine. The finale's Theme and Variations on a lilting dance was actually cheerful, and would have been an inspiration for the next generation's composing great, Franz Schubert.

Quite appropriately, the big work was Schubert's String Quartet in A minor (D.804) “Rosamunde”, which begins with a 1st movement built upon the three notes of the A minor triad (a descending E-C-A). Its sheer repetitiveness could have been tiresome if not for the way the quartet built up its case and the subsequent eventful development. The serenade-like 2nd movement uses the popular Entracte from Schubert's incidental music to Rosamunde, thus giving the quartet its nickname. 

Despite its familiarity, it was never allowed to sound trite or hackneyed. This Biedermeier era beauty continued into the Menuetto, which did not initially sound like a dance but gradually got into its rhythm. The lively finale with Hungarian influence closed the concert on a high, for which the quartet was vociferously received.

There was time for one encore, the Andante slow movement from Mozart's String Quartet in D major (K.575), the first of the “Prussian Quartets”. No flashy fireworks lit up the stage, but the intense musicianship that shone through the evening was illumination enough.      

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Dr Chang,

Thank you so much for telling us the encore piece.