12:43pm Tuesday 8th May 2012
By James Simister
Last year Glyndebourne's concert in the Brighton Festival featured Ludwig van Beethoven's final piano sonata. This year it was his final string quartet, sublimely played by the Hagen Quartet. Next year the group will focus solely on Beethoven’s quartets and this was an exciting preview, although it was a shame to see so many empty seats at this fine concert.
Beethoven wrote this quartet (his opus 132) when he was completely deaf and after a period of serious illness; its long, slow third movement is entitled Holy Song Of Thanks For The Recovery Of An Invalid. The Hagen Quartet managed to maintain a sense of momentum and tension throughout that movement, while giving full expression to its beautiful phrasing and complex harmonies.
The Hagen is one of Europe's leading string quartets; for 31 years its nucleus has been the three Hagen siblings - Lukas, violin; Veronika, viola; and Clemens, cello. Rainer Schmidt has been the second violinist since 1987, and the understanding and co-ordination between them is, unsurprisingly, seamless and apparently effortless.
The quartet was then joined by clarinettist Jorg Widmann in Johannes Brahms' Clarinet Quintet in B minor, opus 115, one of four large-scale pieces he wrote for his clarinettist friend Richard Muhlfeld. Their collaboration explored the potential for the clarinettist as virtuoso and the range of expression in the clarinet itself. Like the Beethoven quartet, this late work has much melancholy and pathos but this is relieved by a great variety of more rhapsodic material.
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