The Hagen Quartet performs Brahms’ String Quintets Op. 88 and Op. 111
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) composed four chamber music quintets. The first of these is for strings and piano, and the last is for strings with clarinet.
The intervening two quintets (music for 5 instruments), are the traditional instrumentation of Mozart, featuring 2 Violins, 2 Violas, and one Cello. The two middle quintets were composed at a lovely spot in Austria called Bad Ischl. Brahms spent many of his summer vacations there.
Bad Ischl is about 1.5 hours away from Salzburg, Austria. It is the countryside that you saw in the movie “The Sound of Music”. I’ve been in that little town, and let me tell you, there are lots of places in the area, where one can obtain inspiration from nature suitable to compose beautiful music! Still, there was only one Johannes Brahms, who could turn Nature into this wonderful music…
The F-Major Quintet, Op. 88 is a bit darker in quality. Perhaps that is the reason that it is somewhat less popular than the second of these, written about 8 years later, in 1890.
The opening movement of the Op. 111 is large, imposing, and may actually have been intended as a Fifth Symphony at one time. The second movement is a lovely Adagio, and the third movement is an Allegretto that seems to go with it as if a pair. The final movement develops into a rhythmic, Hungarian-style dance that brings this piece to a wonderful, bright conclusion.
Many composers that came after Brahms employed this type of last movement, which usually brings the listener out of his/her chair with cheering acclaim. The Hagen Quartet performs both of these works beautifully. Phrasing is always very musical, the sound balance is very good, and all instruments seem to mesh with each other.
The group does a wonderful job with dynamics, assuring that each work is presented in the proper style and with the lead melody clearly identified, even when it moves between multiple instruments.