Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Hagen Quartet/Uchida @ Wigmore Hall, London

09 March 2009

That Mozart could sound so modern was a revelation. With Brahms and Bartk as bedfellows one might expect his classical sensibilities to be pronounced.

But in this Wigmore concert, such bold programming threw new light on the old master.

His String Quartet in E flat K428 is the piece in question. Mozart wrote this work in the summer of 1783 as part of a series of six string quartets having been inspired and a little intimidated, perhaps by Haydn’s model the previous year.

It’s an austere piece that is entirely lacking the Mozartian swagger we are used to: unhinged key changes in the opening bars set the tone for the following movements, which cumulatively convey a disturbing sense of unease.

This strange premonition of twentieth-century angst and uncertainty meant the audience was well primed for the 150-year leap to Bartk’s String Quartet No.3. Composed in 1927, the four movements of this work are played continuously, and are haunted throughout by a whiff of anarchic folk dance, which threatens to derail the piece altogether. Here the tight cohesion of the group was wonderfully apparent, it must help that three of the four musicians are Hagen siblings, the component instruments moving as if they were a single organism.

In the second half, the quartet was joined by Mitsuko Uchida for Brahms’s Piano Quintet in F minor Op.34, and this added dynamic was spectacularly realised. The piece was rearranged a couple of times after its initial composition in 1862, Brahms taking advice from both Clara Schumann and the violinist Joseph Joachim, but the final arrangement offers an attractive range of colour and dynamics. Uchida judged her integration perfectly, clearly alert and responsive to her fellow performers, and together the quintet conjured a thrilling sense of drama that was sustained throughout the piece.

What this concert demonstrated, quite apart from the exceptional musicianship of its performers, was the importance of thoughtful programming, with a line-up that was both unusual and enlightening.

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