Established 32 years ago in Salzburg, the Hagen Quartet can fairly be described as venerable. It may be said equally fairly that brothers Lukas and Clemens Hagen, their sister Veronika, and Rainer Schmidt, are playing better than ever. The opening pair of concerts in their Beethoven cycle at Wigmore Hall in January were remarkable for the freshness as well as the beauty of their playing, and their return next week (19 and 20 April) to the world’s greatest hall for chamber music should not be missed.
Now that the Alban Berg Quartet is no more, the Hagen, along with the Takács, are the supreme performers of Beethoven. There is a high-born, almost patrician quality to their music-making, which has sometimes been mistaken for emotional detachment. But there was nothing detached about their performances of the first two Razumovsky quartets, which got this latest cycle off to such a bracing start. It was thrilling playing; so thrilling they may even have surprised themselves.
Next week the third Razumovsky is paired with the Op 130, the one with the mighty Grosse Fuge, which leaves the listeners almost as worn out as the performers. On the second evening the ‘in between’ quartets, Op 95 and 74, are programmed with Op 18/6. Firm favourites with Wigmore regulars, these wonderful musicians offer, year in, year out, living proof of Picasso’s definition of art: ‘liberty within order’.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 13 April 2013