In the second half of the concert, they played the Trout Quintet with the pianist Boris Giltburg and Enno Senft on double bass. This is joyous music, and the five of them were obviously enjoying themselves enormously; you kept catching shared half-smiles as they played with such verve, without ever losing their subtle colouring and wonderful ensemble. Giltburg in particular was dazzling but never dominating as he wove in and out of the other four. We loved it, the audience loved it, and the musicians happily beamed back as they took the waves of applause. Great stuff. (Boris Giltburg has posted a short video of them rehearsing earlier, which gives a flavour, but the sound isn’t terrific and the evening performance was much more magical.)
But a chance to hear the Trout Quintet wasn’t the main reason I’d been looking forward to this concert for months. Because, before the interval, PHQ played Beethoven’s third Rasumovsky Quartet. I fell in love with this piece, particularly the Andante, when a student — first heard, indeed, in Godard’s film, Une Femme Mariée where snatches of Beethoven keep recurring. As odd chance would have it, I had never before heard it played live, even by a good quartet let alone a great one: the time had come! And, oh heavens, it was a stunning performance — more than bearing comparison with the greatest recordings. Veronica Jarůšková’s phrasing, bar by bar, is a thing of wonder. The Andante was played at the edge of melancholy, with the cello’s plucked notes (which can be too dominant in some performances) in perfect balance. The final Allegro then performed with such speed and drive but also such control, to bring cheers as the four raised their bows at the end. Astonishing indeed.
Ten years ago, the BBC Music Magazine had a cover CD of the PHQ playing three of the Beethoven Quartets (when they were BBC New Generation Artists). These are fine performances, full of youthful adventure. But ten years on — and now with Marek Zwiebel, who is surely just a superb second violinist — their Beethoven playing is in a different league again. In my dream world, they will one day (sooner rather than later) get back to the studio and record e.g. all three Rasumovsky Quartets. That would be quite something.
Not quite the same, perhaps, but here are the PHQ on BBC iPlayer from a concert recorded last year, with Dvořák’s String Quartet No.14, Op.105 (something else they haven’t yet recorded). No one plays Dvořák better.