Music

New Brahms album from the PHQ

The Pavel Haas Quartet’s recent performances of the Brahms quintets with their friends Boris Giltburg and Pavel Nikl (I’ve caught some online) have been just stunning. And now there is a new album released today. Extraordinary.

For a world gone awry

“The St Matthew Passion is one of the most moving experiences of our common humanity that it is possible to share. The story of the Passion of Christ remains today a living drama and moral dilemma of universal relevance, in which — whatever our spirituality or culture — all of us are confronted with our own mortality, our own search for answers. We all share its humanity. Bach’s immense genius is to step completely outside the liturgical framework by placing us at the very heart of the drama: we become the actors, we take part in the action, we feel it, in our sensibility and even physically. We traverse a drama that is above all human: injustice, betrayal, love, sacrifice, forgiveness, remorse, compassion, pity … In quite unprecedented fashion, Bach conveys and makes us feel the fragility and failings of humanity and describes a world gone awry, where love and faith are the only answers. In seeking to challenge and console the human conscience, he offers us genuine ‘balm for the soul’, universal and timeless.”

Thus Raphaël Pichon, in the booklet for his stunning new recording of the Matthew Passion on Harmonia Mundi with his Ensemble Pygmalion and a stella cast of singers. The short video linked above is of Sabine Devieilhe singing the aria ‘Aus Liebe will mein Heiland sterben’ from an earlier performance. And here is a wonderful video of a complete performance from last year.

The Pavel Haas Quartet play Haydn Op. 42

From photo by Marco Borggreve [Click for full original image]
Grim, grim days.

For fifteen minutes of consolation, here is a wonderful performance of Haydn’s Op. 42 String Quartet by the Pavel Haas Quartet. It is on the BBC website, a late night programme from a few days ago: the Haydn starts at 4:59:30.

This must, I think have been recorded from a Wigmore Hall concert some years ago now, when the violist was Pavel Nikl. So the cheering photo, from the quartet’s latest gallery from the fine photographer Marco Borggreve, doesn’t quite fit! But I thought I would post it anyway …

Schubert for dark days

[Video recording no longer available.] Dark days. For consolation, inspiration, a reminder of better things, a great performance of Schubert’s G major Fantasy Sonata D894 by Pavel Kolesnikov at Wigmore Hall a couple of weeks ago.

The first movement starts at 5.00; the remaining movements start at 1.17.00.

Kolesnikov’s full programme, as if a musical evening with Proust, is very worth listening to; but the Schubert is stupendous. Here is Frances Wilson on her fine blog: 

Kolesnikov … launched into the serene first movement of Schubert’s ‘Fantasy’ Sonata, D894, a mesmerizingly spacious account so carefully, subtly nuanced that as each new subject was introduced it took on a special character of its own, as if one was opening a little secret door into another room, another world where we glimpsed, momentarily, people dancing a gentle waltz, unaware they were being observed, or overheard the delicate tinkling sounds of a music box…..Kolesnikov flexes tempos, applies stringendo, pulls back again, allowing the music to ebb and flow, creating an extraordinary sense of time suspended, yet never once sounding contrived nor insincere; this was coupled with a powerful intimacy, as if we had exchanged the Wigmore Hall for an elegant Parisian salon. For a composer for whom pauses and silences are so meaningful, this for me was some of the most sensitive Schubert playing I have ever encountered.

That seems exactly right.

One of the ten greatest? PHQ play Dvorak

Of course, these sorts of listings shouldn’t be taken too seriously. But the BBC Music Magazine has just suggested a list of the ten greatest string quartets of all time (that’s ensembles, not compositions). It runs, in chronological order,

  • Busch Quartet (1912-51)
  • Borodin Quartet (1945-present)
  • Quartetto Italiano (1945-80)
  • Amadeus Quartet (1947-87)
  • Alban Berg Quartet (1970-2008)
  • Kronos Quartet (1973-present)
  • Takács Quartet (1975-present)
  • Emerson Quartet (1976-2023)
  • Ébène Quartet (1999-present)
  • Pavel Haas Quartet (2002-present)

I certainly wouldn’t have included the Kronos in my top ten (I don’t go for their kind of pretentious repertoire), and I do find the Emerson’s impressive gloss not particularly appealing either. Who would I substitute? Certainly, the truly great Smetana Quartet (1945-1989). And probably the Lindsays (1965-2005), who on their best, take-no-prisoners evenings, could be simply stunning in their emotional intensity, and whose recordings still make wonderful listening.

And of course, I am all for the tenth entry! “Stylistically powerful and richly sonorous, the group is known for its passionate and fearless performances,” says the magazine. And certainly, the PHQ have provided some of the most intense musical experiences of my life. Here they are, from a lockdown recording last year, playing my favourite Dvorak quartet, the ‘American’. (At that point, they were between permanent violists, and are joined by their founder-member Pavel Nikl, who sadly had to leave the quartet a few years ago for family reasons.) Enjoy!

Dvořák in Prague — Piano Trio no. 3

Last Autumn, at the Dvořákova Praha festival, Boris Giltburg with Veronika Jarůšková and Peter Jarůšek of the Pavel Haas Quartet played all four of Dvořák’s Piano Trios to great acclaim. You can now hear the rather monumental third of them from a Dutch radio broadcast, which you can stream here. The first piece in the long concert is the Grieg Piano Concerto with Boris Giltburg. The Dvořák Trio starts about 1 hour 33 min into the broadcast.

Press the purple “Speel” button, and the controller then appears at the bottom of the webpage. Enjoy!

And a reminder that for a day or two more, you can still see the PHQ plus Boris Giltburg and Pavel Nikl in their wonderful Brahms concert at Wigmore Hall in October.

The Pavel Haas Quartet play Brahms

The Pavel Haas Quartet back at long last at Wigmore Hall last night, playing two Brahms Quintets, with their original violist Pavel Nikl for the string quintet and their good friend Boris Giltburg for the piano quintet. In simply great form, as the audience agreed, judging by the reception. Free to stream (performance starts about 4.30 in). Don’t miss them.

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