Nevertheless I admit I was wrong in my review of the Hagen Quartet ten years ago. After describing their recorded performances as ardently expressive, I predicted they might choose to impose that quality on the two late Beethoven quartets on their program and that "the result could be disastrous."
Then came the Hagen's performance, followed by their recording of the works a few years later, and that was it. I was indubitably wrong. Not about the Hagen Quartet: they delivered extremely passionate performances, and much else besides, including lithe lyricism, relentless rhythms, and rigorous musical intelligence. Their performances weren't disastrous; they were exciting, exhilarating, and deeply rewarding.
What I was wrong about was Beethoven, a much more grievous offense. I now realize that to say that ardent expressivity isn't a quality found in his late quartets is as wrong as to say it can't be found in his early or middle quartets--or in any of his other music for that matter. And as if to prove that point, the Hagen Quartet is returning to Rackham Auditorium on February 23 with three more quartets by the little big man from Bonn, each more ardently expressive than the last.