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End of life music full of life

06/08/22 The last works have the nimbus of border-crossing. That’s certainly the case with the last three Shostakovich quartets, some of which are restless and somber in their own circles. But death music? The Hagen Quartet once again testified to their pulsating power.

By Heidemarie Klabacher

Friends of the composer – the violist and cellist of the Beethoven Quartet, which premiered almost all of his string quartets – died around the time of string quartets 13, 14 and 15. Shostakovich himself was seriously ill. He did not preface number 15 with a dedication, which has fueled speculation to this day that he wrote it as a requiem for himself. Throughout the previous thirteen quartets, Shostakovich tended to follow the classical ‘rules’. Ironically, near his deathbed, he turned his back on forms and rules and wrote a round dance of slow sentences punctuated by the most dramatic events. Someone, certain of death, gave him the long nose. This gives final resignation a note that resonates.

The energetic reading of the Hagen Quartet seems like a confirmation. The Middle of the “Last” – String Quartet No. 14 in F sharp major, Op. 142 – follows the classic structure, is also the brightest. The Hagen Quartet played it with feather-light, forward-moving verve. Has also enchanted here in many a dreamy pause, such as the cello over the pizzicato of the colleagues.

That is unique String Quartet No. 13 in B flat minor, Op. 138, dedicated to the violist of the Beethoven Quartet. Also on Friday (5.8.) in the Great Hall of the Mozarteum it was almost a trio with a viola that seemed like a solo. Veronika Hagen has not played in the foreground for a second. Rather, it was enchanting to experience how much she kept the viola part, which the composer repeatedly placed in the center, in balance with the other instruments, even in expressive moments, and sought dialogue.

The six seamlessly consecutive Adagio movements of the last – String Quartet No. 15 in E flat minor, Op. 144 – are not a modern counterpart to Haydn’s slow movements, although the comparison tends to force itself again and again seven last words. That doesn’t work with ideology. Although… Shostakovich’s simple, crystal-clear beginning with cello and violin is so celestially beautiful, like a folk song, which expands into a chorale with the addition of the other voice… But just as violently in the Elegies any periods of transfiguration of the past and conjuration of paradise (both probably not a big topic for Shostakovich) flashed again and again by wild, violent, also frightening but always rousing lively motifs. The rather long strokes in the second movement, which wander through all the instruments and set a penetrating impulse at the end of the curve, may also have something infernal and destructive. In any case, in the reading of the Hagen Quartet, they certainly “reveal” them. The short waltz moments in the second Adagio were beguilingly swaying, and one really fears suicide, perhaps through a thud from a swaying barge Serenade. To the Intermezzoplayed virtuosically by Lukas Hagen, follows, exceptionally Adagio molto, the funeral march, in which second violin, viola and cello awaken impressions of unearthly peace and then the desolate one funeral march fade. Is it resignation or the last expression of hope for inner peace? The epilogue as read by the Hagen Quartet seemed to bear witness to the latter.

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Image: Salzburger Festspile / Marco Borrelli

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