Keene (New Hampshire) Sentinel
, May 2009
My second experience with a Medici Arts DVD featuring the Hagen Quartett was as pleasant as the first. Playing before an audience in the Grand Hall of Mozarteum, Salzburg in 2000, the players first offer Beethoven’s “String Quartet, No. 16 in F minor” with its quirky opening bars and then goes on to a charming rendition of Mozart’s “Quintet for Clarinet and Strings” K581. Their encore is a movement from a similar work by Carl Maria von Weber.
The clarinet was a new instrument in Mozart’s time and his quintet for clarinet was the first of its kind.
The siblings Lukas, Clemens and Veronica Hagen are joined by Rainer Schmidt for the Beethoven and by Schmidt and clarinetist Sabine Meyer for the other two works.
As I say in all my reports about classical music on video, actually seeing the fingering, facial expressions, and interplay between the artists makes for a much richer experience than merely hearing them on audio recordings. As far as chamber music is concerned, these Hagen releases are excellent supports for this point of view.
It is not often that four of my favorite symphonic pieces are played in the same concert, as they are on a recent Medici Arts DVD: Borodin’s “Polovtsian Dances” and “Symphony No. 2,” along with Mussorgsky’s Introduction to “Khovanschina” and the evergreen “Pictures at an Exhibition” (Ravel orchestration).
All this was taped on New Year’s Eve, 2007 at the Philharmonie, Berlin, when Simon Rattle conducted the Berlin Philharmonic in this wonderful Russian program. I have never tired of hearing them on sound recordings; but seeing them performed is quite a multidimensional experience. The close-ups are exceptionally well handled when this or that instrument is featured, while the cliché of focusing on the conductor’s perspiring face is little in evidence here.
A short dance from Shostakovich’s “The Age of Gold” is a fitting ending to the concert, although anything would be an anticlimax to the final bars of “Pictures” that represent in music the painting of “The Great Gate of Kiev.”
The running time is 91 minutes, the picture is in 16:9 ratio and there are no bonus features.