PHQ, twenty years on, at East Neuk

Pavel Haas Quartet 2021 — Photo: Marco Borggreve

The Pavel Haas Quartet gave two concerts at the East Neuk festival earlier in the month (Veronika Jarůšková and Peter Jarůšek also played Dvořák trios with Boris Giltburg, to great acclaim). You can now catch up with most of the pieces from the full Quartet’s concerts (the second with Boris Giltburg) in two short programmes on BBC Radio 3, available for a few weeks on BBC Sounds:

Korngold: String Quartet No 3 & Janáček String Quartet No 2 ‘Intimate Letters

Suk: Meditation on the Old Czech Hymn ‘St Wenceslas’ Op 35a & Dvořák: Piano Quintet No 2 in A major Op 81

The Korngold was a complete revelation to me, and the Dvorak (which they have of course recorded) was as usual a delight. As for their intense Janacek, here is the reviewer for the Edinburgh Music Review:

I have been to perhaps a dozen performances of Janáček’s ‘Intimate Letters’ (Quartet No. 2) over the years, including by the great Smetana Quartet in the RDS in Dublin in the late 70s.  I knew that I would be captivated by the music.  I read in the programme that the performers had studied with Milan Škampa, the legendary violist of the Smetana Quartet.  I knew I was about to hear an informed and technically excellent performance.

I knew nothing.  I have no hesitation in stating that the performance of Janáček’s ‘Intimate Letters’ that I had the privilege of experiencing live in Kilrenny on 30th June 2022 was by far the finest performance I have heard, live or otherwise, of this extraordinary work.  I am not alone.  Walking back to the car after the concert, multiple strangers shared in breathless tones much the same sentiment with me.

And indeed the performance is something very special — though you do need to listen in decent headphones to appreciate the extraordinary dynamic range.

This is the PHQ’s twentieth-anniversary year (and what a journey — of their nine CDs, no less than five won Gramophone awards for the best chamber music disc of the year, and one of these won the overall accolade of CD of the Year). But they sound as fresh as ever. Perhaps because they have had to renew themselves more often than they probably would have liked (in the early years in the second violin position, and then latterly after their founding violist very sadly had to leave because of family illness). But the new violist, Luosha Fang, is surely deeply impressive and I think the quartet has never sounded better. Let’s hope for another more settled period with more recordings to come. And meanwhile I can be thankful again for some of the best concert experiences of my life, and the existing CDs to remember them by.

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