Reviews & Photos
New York Times (Monday, October 13, 2008)
Kronenzeitung, (Mittwoch, 2 Februar 2009)
Washington Post (Tuesday, February 5, 2008)
A gripping performance
It's an age-old question: Why spend an evening listening to Schubert string quartets when you could be at a bar, screaming at the television? But for the thin crowd who skipped the Super Bowl on Sunday night and made it down to the Hugo Wolf Quartet's recital at the National Gallery of Art, the rewards were every bit as dramatic as the Giants' win.
This relatively young, Vienna-based quartet has been generating a lot of buzz lately for its intensely characterful performances of the standard and not-so-standard repertoire. The buzz seems warranted: Opening with Schubert's precocious Quartet in E-flat, D. 87 (written when he was all of 16), they dug into it with utter seriousness, revealing unsuspected gravity in a work that, to these ears, has always sounded distinctly callow. The composer Hugo Wolf (for whom the group, obviously, is named) is best known for his moody songs, but the "Italian Serenade" from 1887 may be one of his most playful works, full of deft irony and subtle jokes. Oddly and a bit disappointingly, the Wolf Quartet gave it a dark, unsmiling reading -- beautifully executed (despite the detail-smearing acoustics of the West Garden Court)
The most meaningful I’ve heard since I can remember. I was transfixed.
Haydn’s Quartet in D, Op. 20 set the “tone” for the genre’s absoluteness and intensity of musical expression. Berg’s Lyric Suite moves with compelling craft and intense inevitability. With Beethoven’s Op. 130, the Hugo Wolf gets credit for giving us a snappy, virtuosic accounts, which could not conceal their greatness.
Pittsburgh Post (Tuesday, February 05, 2008)
Hugo Wolf Quartett sets tone for series with a mastery beyond their years.
The Pittsburgh Chamber Music Society is putting its finger on the pulse of the city's artistic community and daringly expanding its season with "Bridges," a festival not just of four additional string ensembles, but younger groups with an edgier concept of programming.
No doubt this is a technically talented ensemble, lean and cohesive in its phrasing, and not without a sense of humor --the evening included the quartet arrangement of Johann Strauss' overture to "Die Fledermaus."
The four musicians emerged for the second half with a robustly authoritative approach in the delightful "Italian Serenade," by none other than Wolf himself.
That fostered some thought on the quartet's program, certainly a modern-day rendering of the capital of classical music, Vienna , and one that was highly vocal in nature -- "Fledermaus," an opera; Schubert and Wolf more noted for their lieder; and the final piece, Berg's passion-driven "Lyric Suite," which has been called "a latent opera."
Here, the Wolf members allowed the surprising emotional elements within the 12-tone format (making this one of the must-listens of 20th-century music) to unfold with a mastery beyond their years. By turn tender, ardent, touching, muscular -- indeed almost singing the lines -- it made up for the less-than-optimum conditions.
It also set up the need to bring this quartet back.
Pittsburgh Gazette (Wednesday, February 6, 2008)
Quartet makes most of site's dry sound
By Mark Kanny
The Pittsburgh Chamber Music Society began its Bridges Festival of young string quartets Monday night, traveling physically to the North Side and musically to Vienna. The Hugo Wolf Quartet played an all-Viennese program that built to a winning performance of Alban Berg's "Lyric Suite."
The concert began well with a smoothly assured account of Franz Schubert's String Quartet No. 10 in E flat major. The sensibility animating the phrasing of the music was by turns ardent and energetic, with very effective inner voices and the lovely and intelligent playing of cellist Florian Berner on the bottom.
Even so, the Hugo Wolf Quartet's performance of the Schubert was much better than the one by the Tokyo String Quartet at Carnegie Music Hall in 2003. My sole reservation was that the scherzo was more efficient than witty Monday night.
Gurtler's arrangement of the Overture to "Die Fledermaus" by Johann Strauss Jr. was a reminder of how well Strauss' music works playing by a small string ensemble., Strauss' music sounded energetic but affectionate in the Hugo Wolf Quartet performance.
After intermission, the short "Italian Serenade" by the ensemble's namesake was well-defined, with a fine viola solo by Gertrud Weinmeister.
But, it was the complex and emotionally intense world of Alban Berg that was the evening's highlight. The "Lyric Suite" was Berg's first 12-tone piece, and one which showed he could write affecting music in a style often maligned as arid.
The venue's dry acoustics were an advantage in Berg's music, as another audience member observed after the concert, because everything could be heard clearly. And we wanted to hear all of the inspired performance which strongly projected the music's greatness with scrupulous attention to detail.
Palm Beach Daily News (Tuesday, February 19, 2008)
Hugo Wolf Quartett gives spirited, graceful performance at The Society of the Four Arts
By JOSEPH YOUNGBLOOD
If you love the music of Franz Schubert (1797-1828), you definitely belonged at The Society of the Four Arts on Sunday afternoon. The "Hugo Wolf Quartett" played two string quartets and a short waltz by Schubert, separated by an arrangement of the Overture to Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss (1825-1899).
Formed in Vienna in 1993, the ensemble has taken the name of the late 19th-century composer/critic Hugo Wolf (1860-1903) in recognition of his pivotal position between 19th-century Romanticism and the various new music movements of the early 20th century.
The concert opened with Schubert's Quartet No. 10 in E Flat, D. 87, dating from 1813, when the composer was 16 years old. From the first note, the quartet displayed effective use of dynamics in its phrasing.
The players are free of any idiosyncrasies. The playing overall was spirited yet graceful.
Particularly lovely was the adagio, in which the inner parts were subordinate to the melody but were at the same time clearly audible.
The concert closed with Quartet No. 15 in G, D. 887. If the Quartet No. 10 seemed a bit on the long side, the 15th truly achieved the "heavenly length" that Robert Schumann alluded to as this work is 45 minutes long. This quartet contains all the features that we love in Schubert: ethereal melodies, lilting melodies and imaginative chord progressions.
The emotional range of the quartet is quite broad as the end of the first movement is nearly violent. It is to the credit of the players that they kept their concentration focused the entire time; there was never a letdown in intensity.
Between these two works was the Overture to Strauss's operetta Die Fledermaus, Op. 362. From the decisive opening to the elegant waltz, the work was pure Vienna.
Many passages were taken at lightning speed, and the players reveled in passing motifs from instrument to instrument, engaging in rapid single bowing and executing fast pizzicato under what can only be described as perilous conditions.
The waltz was highly stylistic, phrased without distortion or sentimentality. The audience seemed to agree that there is a place (albeit a small one) for light music on concert programs.
The program ended amid cries of bravo and a standing ovation. The quartet responded with a tender excerpt from Schubert's 46 Valses nobles and sentimentales (D. 969/779).
It is easy to play it safe in programming, never taking any chances of boring or shocking the listeners. However, there is something to be said for risky programming — like two Schubert quartets. When it works, as it did Sunday, it is very exciting.
Quartet digs down deep
By Kyle MacMillan
Technically gifted and highly focused, these four superbly matched musicians are less concerned with superficial sheen and gloss than digging in and finding the emotional core of the music.
The heart and soul of the evening came in the middle, with the ensemble's gritty, gut-wrenching take on Alban Berg's "Lyric Suite," a 20th-century masterpiece that still sounds edgy and avant garde more than 75 years after it was written.
The highly demanding, six-movement piece, suffused with a sense of loss, conveys the tumultuous range of emotions Berg experienced in a clandestine love affair that was only revealed decades after his death.
The ensemble attacked this half-hour work with authority and unbridled intensity, capturing the inner strain and tension within the uneasy cohesiveness of this intricately interwoven piece. There was no letdown.
Each movement was a highlight in itself, such as the otherworldly third movement, with the pinched, high- pitched sounds rendered with unblinking rawness.
In the second half of the concert, the quartet substituted Ludwig van Beethoven's Quartet in B flat major, Op. 130, for an earlier one by the composer. If this made for an overly weighty lineup, it was impossible to argue with the results.
The performance came a little more than a week after the St. Lawrence String Quartet performed the same work in Denver. It was impossible to resist comparing the two versions, and the edge arguably went to the Hugo Wolf, with its sharp- edged immediacy.
It offered a transfixing version of the Cavatini, achieving an earthy blend anchored by the deep-throated playing of cellist Florian Berner and an breathlessly insistent, propulsive take on the culminating Grosse Fuge.
Charston Daily Mail (Monday February 11, 2008)
Austrian string quartet a rare treat for the ears
by Rick Justice
It's a rare and joyous treat when you go to a concert and it exceeds your expectations.
When it was announced that the Austrian string quartet, Hugo Wolf Quartet, was to be the guest artist for this series, I was immediately interested in finding out what the play list was going to be. The list included Beethoven, a good German start. It included Haydn, Austro-Hungarian, getting closer. And finally, Hugo Wolf, a hometown Vienna favorite.
I thought, "If anyone knows how to play these works with a great thrust of authenticity, this Austrian quartet should be it." I was right beyond my wildest dreams.
First the Haydn String Quartet opus 20 number 4.
This work, in the hands of these musicians, was light, airy, delicate, almost effeminate in the best possible way.
Their choices of pace, dynamics and grace set a new level of excellence to be expected of other string quartets.
It was so beautiful and again, graceful, that one could not help but smile and drift into those beautiful high meadows where the gentle cattle graze.
Adding the Grosse Fuge op. 133 to Beethoven's String Quartet op.130 is like running a full marathon and then swimming across the Mississippi when it is near flood stage.
These four musicians lacked not in the least the power, focus and a high degree of musicianship in their handling of the work.
Even in the midst of their "handling" they still maintained an aura of sophistication which they had shown to be their watermark.
Perhaps it is just as well that we shan't hear these artists in a routine of regularity lest we become jaded and miss the beauty.
Ornamental Beauty of Sound
By Martin Andris, Klassik.com
5 Star for Interpretation and 5 Stars for Sound Quality for Franz Mittler
The Hugo Wolf Quartett reached astonishing renown on the international music scene only within the 15years of its existence. The result of the Mittler string quartet interpretation is amazing. The Hugo Wolf Quartet is able to show Mittler’s talent with a powerful sound. This precise interpretation with it’s dynamic contrasts and with its penetrating acousticis highly recommended.
By John Kelman
Other People takes that concept to its logical conclusion, with Wheeler writing new music for the Hugo Wolf String Quartet. The entire program is exceptional in its refined beauty … While attention is paid to the kind of gradual thematic unfolding more prevalent in classical chamber music, and a temporal freedom that allows for brief passages of greater drama and rubato tone poetry, there's often still a pervasive, albeit subtle, pulse.