PHQ — Prague spring

Six months after their last live concert, with Covid restrictions easing in the Czech Republic, the Pavel Haas Quartet have been able to start playing again, streaming two concerts over the last weekend. It was wonderful to hear them.

One highlight, for me, was getting to know Martinů’s 7th quartet, which they played so engagingly in the first of the concerts, recorded for a Duke University series. John Gilhooly at Wigmore Hall had persuaded the PHQ to play a Martinů cycle starting last year  — but of course, like so many other musical plans, all that was thwarted by Covid. Hopefully the cycle (and a recording or two?) will still happen sooner rather than later: if this sample was anything to go by, PHQ will make Martinů their own in the same way that they give such compelling performances of the other Czech greats.

Another highlight was the performance of the Brahms Piano Quintet, joined by Boris Giltburg in the second of the concerts, recorded for a Spivey Hall series. In particular, the gentle second movement was simply magical (with Giltburg making other pianists in a couple of discs I know seem positively flatfooted). Another recording, please, of this together perhaps with the Shostakovich Piano Quintet! — for I’ve also heard Giltburg play that with the PHQ a couple of times quite outstandingly.

These concerts, perhaps, had more significance for the PHQ than just restarting playing; for they were joined for the first time by their new violist Luosha Fang. They had suddenly parted company with the violist, composer and conductor Jiří Kabát at the beginning of 2020, asked the prize-winning Luosha Fang to join them, and (again) plans were blown up by Covid. Now, I don’t have a good enough ear to be the best judge, but from these concerts she is surely an inspired choice for them. Her playing seems wonderful (for example in the exposed viola part in the movement  of the second quartet by Pavel Haas that PHQ played as an encore for the Duke concert), and very much in keeping with the style of the quartet. We can only hope this transatlantic marriage works out for them all.

The links I gave for the concerts in a post last week have now expired, as each was only available for three days. Hopefully the recordings will eventually be made available more widely.

Added: The PHQ and Boris Giltburg are playing the Spivey Hall programme, plus Bartok, in the Library of Congress series, freely available from June 18th —  details here.

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