Regretting that Myrios no longer releases Super Audio CD’s (SACD), many will be glad to learn that recordings will henceforth be available through downloadable digital files from Native DSD. And let me assure all classical music fans: Not only doesn’t it have any negative impact on the quality, but you will also get the choice of higher resolutions than available on the physical product. Moreover, these files are not limited to the maximum duration of an SACD.
With this latest release, Myrios offer the classical niche market two of Brahms’ best-loved chamber works. The short of it is that I find Brahms’ 3rd String Quartet, Op. 67, as performed by one of Europe’s (Austria) oldest and arguably best string quartets, the finest I have heard in a long time, whilst the Piano Quintet, Op. 34, with the much-lauded Russian born, American pianist, Kirill Gerstein at the grand, sweeps away much of today’s competition.
This should not come as a surprise. Over the years, the Hagen’s have amassed a multitude of accolades. Adding my comments would, no doubt, be a repetition of all that has already been said or written. Giving it nonetheless a try, I’d say that their precision, interplay, and sound-shaping reminds me of the late Alban Berg Quartet, with one huge difference: Where the ABQ’s were just very good, the Hagen family (+ one) offer more in terms of emotion; mesmerizing the audience in their interpretation of the 3rd String Quartet with a judicious combination of affection and enchantment. Moreover, by skilfully shifting intensity and color, they raise this loving piece of music to a level unmatched by anything else in this genre.
Furthermore, and without the slightest intention to diminish my admiration for any of its players, I’d like to lift out the viola of Veronika Hagen, whose sensitive playing goes straight to the soft spot I have for the sonority of this instrument, especially with regard to her part in the third movement. One does not always realize how important the viola is for an overall, balanced sound picture.
With the Piano Quintet, we enter a different world. This combination was, In those days, a novelty, ‘invented’ by Robert Schumann. The liner notes (downloadable as well) describe its complicated origin. Self-critical as Brahms was (as well as being susceptible to comments) the piece has been worked and reworked several times, resulting in something remarkably monumental, to my mind with symphonic allures, similar to his First Piano Quartet.
Kirill Gerstein, supported by the Hagen’s give it a majestically powerful, though at times (second movement) intimately romantic reading. In doing so, it becomes abundantly clear that Gerstein is the quartet’s preferred pianist. In spite of inherent difficulties, stemming from the various reworkings of the original score, we get here a balanced and most attractive account. Radiating a sense of common enjoyment, with individual parts developing seamlessly from one hand to the other. But what I admire most of all is that these musicians never resort to exaggeration, they serve the music, not themselves, nor, for that matter, their own glory.
Stephan Cahen, the musical brain behind Myrios, whose recording standards are widely known to be of the highest available level, has done it again. Putting everything in proper and prizeworthy (to be taken literally, I hope) perspective, this release should, without any doubt, find its well-deserved way amongst the most discerning music lover.
The Hagen Quartet strikes a decisively angular tone for Brahms's final string quartet. The first movement has a strikingly brusque feel to it. This lets up slowly in the second movement, and in the third, the tone is sweet and tender.
The strong contrast between the expressive quality of the movements, as well as the wide range of tonal colors, make it clear why the Hagen Quartet is held in such high esteem. They are joined by Kirill Gerstein for the piano quintet, who fits in wonderfully with the other musicians, keeping pace with their versatile approach.