Perfect quartets

Austria's Hagen Quartet has performed at the highest international level for more than three decades. At the ninth Singapore Chamber Music Festival, they played quartets by Haydn, Mozart and Schubert, who, with Beethoven, have composed the bulk of the canon of the string quartet repertoire.

Josef Haydn's role in defining the string quartet genre cannot be overstated and concertgoers would be familiar with the more popular ones. String Quartet Op. 54 No. 2 is a less conventional example of his work.

The Hagen Quartet's opening movement was less harried than is often heard. This gave first violin Lukas Hagen space to explore the intricacies of the music. His fellow musicians supported him with precision and empathy.

The interaction between the musicians was brought to a higher level in the second movement, where Haydn gives the leader a striking virtuoso part with Hungarian strains and highly improvisational writing. Just as unexpected was a mostly slow and stately fourth movement, with only a short fast section and a quiet ending to the quartet.

Concerts by world-class chamber groups are relatively scarce here and hearing the Hagen Quartet play this work was like being given the privilege to sit in on an intimate discourse among long-time friends. There was passion, joy, grace and no shortage of drama in the playing, but not a hint of theatrics.

This was chamber music-making at its best and, apart from the distraction of a restless child, the audience was enthralled.



    Lukas Hagen, Rainer Schmidt - violin, Iris Hagen - viola, Clemens Hagen - cello

    Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music Concert Hall/Tuesday

On Mozart's String Quartet No. 15, the Hagen Quartet once again chose a quartet with a contemplative leaning. Mozart's quartets are less weighted towards the first violin, highlighting the delicate layering of sounds and pinpoint-passing of melodies between instruments.

The trio section of the lovely third movement Menuetto was played with Haydnesque charm; its outer sections had a Schubertian air.

Second violin Rainer Schmidt's playing in the Mozart quartet was worthy of mention. His exemplary accompaniment was understated yet pivotal and his solos a perfect match to those of his partners.

The sorrowful opening movement of Schubert's String Quartet No. 13, Rosamunde, seemed to emerge out of the quiet closing notes of the Mozart quartet in the first half. The quartet has a famous second movement that borrows a melody from the composer's incidental music to the play Rosamunde. This was played with utmost beauty and the quartet revelled in the alternating sorrow and joy found throughout the work.

In an evening where the playing was beyond reproach, it was the performance of the simple third movement, Menuetto, of the Rosa- munde Quartet that stood out. The Hagen Quartet's playing captured the essence of Haydn, Mozart and Schubert and the spirit of the string quartet.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 03, 2016, with the headline 'Perfect quartets'. Print Edition | Subscribe